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9? C>?6ir & -08879 


Gilbart Kith Ch9trton 

o oooi Demits s 






Maisie Ward 

JSfrw York 


Copyright, 1943, by Shced 6" Ward, Inc. 

First Printing, August, 1943. 
Second Printing, September, 




Introduction: Chiefly Concerning Sources vii 


I Background for Gilbert Keith Chesterton I 

II Childhood 8 

III School Days 19 

IV Art Schools and University College 43 
V The Notebook 58 

VI Towards a Career 69 

VII Incipit Vita Nova 84 

VIII To Frances 94 

IX A Long Engagement 106 

X Who is G.K.C.? 125 

XI Married Life in London^ 151 

XII Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 191 

XIII Orthodoxy 208 

XIV Bernard Shaw 220 
XV Front Eattersea to Beaconsfield 242 

XVI A Circle of Friends 266 

XVII The Disillusioned Liberal X 287 

XVIII The Eye Witness 3 J 4 

XIX Marconi 33 * 

XX The Eve of the War (1911-1915) "363 

XXI The War Years 389 

XXII After the Armistice 4 20 

XXIII Rome via Jerusalem 439 

XXIV Completion 4^9 

XXV The Reluctant Editor (1925-1930) 486 

XXVI The Distributist League and Distrtbutism^ 509 
XXVII Silver Weddinz 5*9 

XXVIII Columbus 562 



, B 

: J v$ foe Soft Answer 595 

XXX Our Lady's Tumbler 614 

XXXI The Living Voice 627 

XXXII Last Days 646 


Appendix A An Earlier Chesterton 657 
Appendix B Prize Poem Written at St. 

Paul's 660 

Appendix C The Chestertons 662 

Acknowledgments 669 

Bibliography 67 1 

Index 677 

Chesterton's Monument designed by Eric Gill Frontispiece 


Chesterton at the age of six 10 

Chesterton aged about thirteen 32 

G. K. Chesterton at sixteen 46 

Self Caricature Slade School Period 78 

Page of Ms. altered by Bernard Shaw 224 

Figures from the Toy Theatre 247 

Figures from the Toy Theatre 262 

Mr. and Mrs. Chesterton 1922 448 

Chesterton dictating to Dorothy Collins 1929 526 
Chesterton with William Lyon Phelps and George Russell 558 

G. K. Chesterton ^^^ 590 
Chesterton at the 

Chiefly Concerning Sources 

THE MATERIAL FOR this book falls roughly into two parts: 
spoken and written. Gilbert Chesterton was not an old man 
when he died and many of his friends and contemporaries have 
told me incidents and recalled sayings right back to his early 
boyhood. This part of the material has been unusually rich and 
copious so that I could get a clearer picture of the boy and the 
young man than is usually granted to the biographer. 

The book has been in the making for six years and in three 
countries. Several times I laid it aside for some months so as to 
be able to get a fresh view of it. I talked to all sorts of people, 
heard all sorts of ideas, saw my subject from every side; I went to 
Paris to see one old friend, to Indiana to see others, met for the 
first time in lengthy talk Maurice Baring, H. G. Wells and 
Bernard Shaw; went to Kingslan4 to see Mr. Belloc; gathered 
Gilbert's boyhood friends of the Junior Debating Club in Lon 
don and visited "Father Brown" among his Yorkshire moors. 

Armed with a notebook, I tried to miss none who had known 
Gilbert well, especially in his youth: E. C. Bentley, Lucian 
Oldershaw, Lawrence Solomon, Edward Fordham. I had ten 
long letters from Annie Firmin, my most valuable witness as to 
Gilbert's childhood. For information on the next period of his 
life, I talked to Monsignor O'Connor, to Hilaire Belloc, Maurice 
Baring, Charles Somers Cocks, F, Y. Eccles and others, besides 
being now able to draw on my own memories, Frances I had 
talked with on and off abptEt tfc^^Ky nlarried years ever since 


viii Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

I had first known them, but she was, alas, too ill and conse 
quently too emotionally unstrung during the last months for 
me to ask her all the questions springing in my mind. "Tell 
Maisie," she said to Dorothy Collins, "not to talk to me about 
Gilbert. It makes me cry/' 

For the time at Beaconsfield, out of a host of friends the most 
valuable were Dr. Pocock and Dr. BakewelL Among priests, 
Monsignors O'Connor and Ronald Knox, Fathers Vincent 
McNabb, O.P. and Ignatius Rice, O.S.B. were especially inti 

Dorothy Collins's evidence covers a period of ten years, That 
of H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw is reinforced by most valuable 
letters which they have kindly allowed me to publish, 

Then too Gilbert was so much of a public character and so 
popular with his fellow journalists that stories of all kinds 
abound: concerning him there is a kind of evidence, and very 
valuable it is, that may be called a Boswell Collective. It is fitting 
that it should be so. We cannot picture G.K. like the great lexi 
cographer accompanied constantly by one ardent and observant 
witness, pencil in hand, ready to take notes over the teacups, 
(And by the way, in spite of an acquaintance who regretted in 
this connection that G.K. was not latterly more often seen in 
taverns, it was over the teacups, even more than over the wine 
glasses, that Boswell made his notes. I have seen BoswelFs signa 
ture after wine on the minutes of a meeting of The Club and 
he was in no condition then for the taking of notes. Even the 
signature is almost illegible.) But it is fitting that Gilbert, who 
loved all stats of men so much, should be kept alive for the future 
by all sorts of men. From the focussing of many views from 
many angles this picture has been composed, but they are all 
views of one man, and the picture will show, I think, a singular 
unity. When Whistler, as Gilbert himself once said, painted a 
portrait he made and destroyed many sketches how many it did 
not matter, for all, even of f his failures, were fruitful but it 

Introduction ix 

would have mattered frightfully if each time he looked up he 
found a new subject sitting placidly for his portrait. Gilbert was 
fond of asking in the New Witness of people who expressed 
admiration for Lloyd George: "Which George do you mean?" 
for, chameleon-like, the politician has worn many colours and 
the portrait painted in 1906 would have had to be torn up in 
1916. But gather the Chesterton portraits: read the files when 
he first grew into fame: talk to Mr. Titterton who worked with 
him on the Daily News in 1906 and on G.K.'s Weekly in 1936, 
collect witnesses from his boyhood to his old age, from Dublin 
to Vancouver: individuals who knew him, groups who are en 
deavoring to work out his ideas: all will agree on the ideas and 
on the man as making one pattern throughout, one developing 
but integrated mind and personality. 

Gathering the material for a biography bears some resem 
blance to interrogating witnesses in a Court of Law. There 
are good witnesses and bad: reliable and unreliable memories. 
I remember an old lady, a friend of my mother's, who remarked 
with candour after my mother had confided to her something of 
importance: "My dear, I must go and write that down imme 
diately before my imagination gets mixed with my memory/' 
One witness must be checked against another: there will be 
discrepancies in detail but the main facts will in the end emerge. 

Just now and again, however, a biographer, like a judge, meets 
a totally unreliable witness. 

One event in this biography has caused me more trouble than 
anything else: the Marconi scandal and the trial of Cecil Ches 
terton for criminal libel which grew out of it. As luck would 
have it, it was on this that I had to interrogate my most unreli 
able witness. I had seen no clear and unbiased account so I 
had to read the many pages of Blue Book and Law Reports be 
sides contemporary comment in various papers. I have no legal 
training, but one point stuck out like a spike. Cecil Chesterton 
had brought accusations against Godfrey Isaacs not only concern- 

x Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

ing his own past career as a company promoter, but also concern 
ing his dealings with the government over the Marconi contract, 
in connection with which he had also fiercely attacked Rufus 
Isaacs, Herbert Samuel and other ministers of the Crown. But in 
the witness box he accepted the word of the very ministers he 
had been attacking, and declared that he no longer accused them 
of corruption: which seemed to me a complete abandonment of 
his main position. 

Having drafted my chapter on Marconi, I asked Mrs. Cecil 
Chesterton to read it, but more particularly to explain this point. 
She gave me a long and detailed account of how Cecil had been 
intensely reluctant to take this course, but violent pressure had 
been exerted on him by his father and by Gilbert who were both 
in a state of panic over the trial. Unlikely as this seemed, espe 
cially in Gilbert's case, the account was so circumstantial, and 
from so near a connection, that I felt almost obliged to accept it. 
What was my amazement a few months later at receiving a 
letter in which she stated that after "a great deal of close research 
work, re-reading of papers, etc." (in connection with her own 
book The Chestertons) and after a talk with Cecil's solicitors, 
she had become convinced that Cecil had acted as he had be 
cause "the closest sleuthing had been unable to discover any 
trace" of investments by Rufus Isaacs in English Marconis. "For 
this reason Cecil took the course he did not through family 
pressure. That pressure, I still feel,* was exerted, though pos 
sibly not until the trial was over/* 

It was, then, the lady's feelings and not facts that had been 
offered to me as evidence, and it was the merest luck that my 
book had not appeared before Cecil's solicitors had spoken. 

The account given in Lord Birkenhead's Famous Trials is the 
Speech for the Prosecution. Mrs. Cecil Chesterton's chapter is an 
impressionist sketch of the court scene by a friend of the defend 
ant. What was wanted was an impartial account, but I tried in 

* Italics mine. 

Introduction xi 

vain to write it. The chronology of events, the connection be 
tween the Government Commission and the Libel Case, the con 
nection between the English and American Marconi companies 
it was all too complex for the lay mind, so I turned the chapter 
over to my husband who has had a legal training and asked him 
to write it for me. 

The Chestertons is concerned with Gilbert and Frances as 
well as with Cecil; and the confusion between memory and 
imagination to say nothing of reliance on feelings unsupported 
by facts pervades the book. It can only be called a Legend, so 
long growing in Mrs. Cecil's mind that I am convinced that 
when she came to write her book she firmly believed in it her 
self. The starting-point was so ardent a dislike for Frances that 
every incident poured fuel on the flame and was seen only by 
its light. When I saw her, the Legend was beginning to shape. 
She told me various stories showing her dislike: facts offered by 
me were either denied or twisted to fit into the pattern. I do 
not propose to discuss here the details of a thoroughly unreliable 
book. Most of them I think answer themselves in the course of 
this biography. With one or two points I deal in Appendix C. 
But I will set down here one further incident that serves to show 
just how little help this particular witness could ever be. 

For, like Cecil's solicitors, I spoilt one telling detail for her. 
She told me with great enthusiasm that Cecil had said that 
Gilbert was really in love not with Frances but with her sister 
Gertrude, and that Gertrude's red hair accounted for the num 
ber of red-headed heroines in his stories. I told her, however, on 
the word of their brother-in-law, that Gertrude's hair was not 
red. Mr, Oldershaw in fact seemed a good deal amused: he said 
that Gilbert never looked at either of the other sisters, who were 
"not his sort," and had eyes only for Frances. Mrs. Cecil how 
ever would not relinquish this dream of red hair and another 
love. In her book she wishes "red-gold" hair on to Annie Firmin, 
because in the Autobiography Gilbert had described her golden 

xii Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

plaits. But unluckily for this new theory Annie's hair was yel 
low,* which is quite a different colour. And Annie, who is still 
alive, is also amused at the idea that Gilbert had any thought of 
romance in her connection. 

When Frances Chesterton gave me the letters and other docu 
ments, she said: "I don't want the book to appear in a hurry: not 
for at least five years. There will be lots of little books written 
about Gilbert; let them all come out first. I want your book to be 
the final and definitive Biography/' 

The first part of this injunction I have certainly obeyed, for it 
will be just seven years after his death that this book appears. 
For the second half, I can say only that I have done the best 
that in me lies to obey it also. And I am very grateful to those 
who have preceded me with books depicting one aspect or 
another of my subject. I have tried to make use of them all as 
part of my material, and some are "little" merely in the number 
of their pages. I am especially grateful to Hilaire Belloc, Emile 
Cammaerts, Cyril Clemens and "Father Brown" (who have al 
lowed me to quote with great freedom)* I want to thank Mr. 
Seward Collins, Mr. Cyril Clemens and the University of Notre 
Dame for the loan of books; Mrs. Bambridge for the use of a 
letter from Kipling and a poem from The Years Between, 

Even greater has been the kindness of those friends of my own 
and of Gilbert Chesterton's who have read this book in manu 
script and made very valuable criticisms and suggestions: May 
Chesterton, Dorothy Collins, Edward Connor, Ross Hoffman, 
Mrs. Robert Kidd, Arnold Lunn, Mgr, Knox, Father Murtagh, 
Father Vincent McNabb, Lucian Oldershaw, Beatrice Warde, 
Douglas Woodruff, Monsignor O'Connor. 

Most of the criticisms were visibly right, while even those 
with which I could not concur showed me the weak spot in 
* See G.K/s letter to her daughter, p. 633. 

Introduction xiii 

my work that had occasioned them. They have helped me to 
improve the book I think I may say enormously. 

One suggestion I have not followed that one name should 
be used throughout: either Chesterton or Gilbert or G.K., but 
not all three. I had begun with the idea of using "Chesterton" 
when speaking of him as a public character and also when speak 
ing of the days before I did in fact call him "Gilbert" But this 
often left him and Cecil mixed up: then too, though I seldom 
used "G.K." myself, other friends writing to me of him often 
used it. I began to go through the manuscript unifying and 
then I noticed that in a single paragraph of his Bernard Shaw 
Gilbert uses "GBS," "Shaw," "Bernard Shaw" and "Mr. Shaw." 
Here was a precedent indeed, and it seemed to me that it was 
really the natural thing to do. After all we do talk of people now 
by one name, now by another: it is a matter of slight impor 
tance if of any, and I decided to let it go. 

As to size, I am afraid the present book is a large one although 
not as large as Boswell's Johnson or Gone With the Wind. But 
in this matter I am unrepentant, for I have faith in Chesterton's 
own public. The book is large because there is no other way of 
getting Chesterton on to the canvas. It is a joke he would himself 
have enjoyed, but it is also a serious statement. For a complete 
portrait of Chesterton, even the most rigorous selection of 
material cannot be compressed into a smaller space. I have first 
written at length and then cut and cut. 

At first I had intended to omit all matter already given in the 
Autobiography. Then I realised that would never do. For some 
things which are vital to a complete Biography of Chesterton 
are not only told in the Autobiography better than I could tell 
them, but are recorded there and nowhere else. And this book 
is not merely a supplement to the Autobiography. It is the Life 
of Chesterton. 

The same problem arises with regard to the published books 
and I have tried to solve it on the same lines. There has rung 

xiv Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

in my mind Mr. Belloc's saying: "A man is his mind." To tell 
the story of a man of letters while avoiding quotation from or 
reference to his published works is simply not to tell it. At 
Christopher Dawson's suggestion I have re-read all the books in 
the order in which they were written, thus trying to get the devel 
opment of Gilbert's mind perfectly clear to myself and to trace 
the influences that affected him at various dates. For this reason 
I have analysed certain of the books and not others those which 
showed this mental development most clearly at various stages, 
or those (too many alas) which are out of print and hard to 
obtain. But whenever possible in illustrating his mental history 
I have used unpublished material, so that even the most ardent 
Chestertonian will find much that is new to him, 

For the period of Gilbert's youth there are many exercise 
books, mostly only half filled, containing sketches and carica 
tures, lists of titles for short stories and chapters, unfinished short 
stories. Several completed fairy stories and some of the best draw 
ings were published in The Coloured Lands. Others are hints 
later used in his own novels: there is a fragment of The BaZZ and 
the Cross, a first suggestion for The Man Who Wa$ Thursday, 
a rather more developed adumbration of The Napoleon of Not- 
ting Hill. This I think is later than most of the notebooks; but, 
after the change in handwriting, apparently deliberately and 
carefully made by Gilbert around the date at which he left St. 
Paul's for the Slade School, it is almost impossible to establish 
a date at all exactly for any one of these notebooks* Notes made 
later when he had formed the habit of dictation became difficult 
to read, not through bad handwriting, but because words are 
abbreviated and letters omitted. 

Some of the exercise books appear to have been begun, thrown 
aside and used again later. There is among them one only of real 
biographical importance, a book deliberately used for the devel 
opment of a philosophy of life, dated in two places, to which I 
devote a chapter and which I refer to as the Notebook, This book 

Introduction xv 

is as important in studying Chesterton as the Pens^es would be 
for a student of Pascal. He is here already a master of phrase 
in a sense which makes a comparison with Pascal especially apt. 
For he often packs so much meaning into a brilliant sentence or 
two that I have felt it worth while, in dealing especially with 
some of the less remembered books, to pull out a few of these 
sentences for quotation apart from their context. 

Other important material was to be found in G.K/s Weekly, 
in articles in other periodicals, and in unpublished letters. With 
some of the correspondences I have made considerable use of 
both sides, and if anyone pedantically objects that that is unusual 
in a biography I will adapt a phrase of Bernard Shaw's which 
you will find in this book, and say, "Hang it all, be reasonable! 
If you had the choice between reading me and reading Wells 
and Shaw, wouldn't you choose Wells and Shaw." 


Background for Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

IT is USUAL to open a biography with some account of the 
subject's ancestry. Chesterton, in his Browning,* after some 
excellent foolery about pedigree-hunting, makes the suggestion 
that middle-class ancestry is far more varied and interesting than 
the ancestry of the aristocrat: 

The truth is that aristocrats exhibit less of the romance of pedi 
gree than any other people in the world. For since it is their principle 
to marry only within their own class and mode of life, there is no 
opportunity in their case for any of the more interesting studies in 
heredity; they exhibit almost the unbroken uniformity of the lower 
animals. It is in the middle classes that we find the poetry of geneal 
ogy; it is the suburban grocer standing at his shop door whom some 
wild dash of Eastern or Celtic blood may drive suddenly to a whole 
holiday or a crime. 

This may provide fun for a guessing game but is not very use 
ful to a biographer. The Chesterton family, like many another, 
had had the ups and downs in social position that accompany the 
ups and downs of fortune. Upon all this EdwardChe^^ 
? i ^ rt>s f at ^ er > as h ea d of the family possessed many interesting 
documenSTAfter his death, Gilbert's mother left his papers un 
disturbed. But when she died Gilbert threw away, without ex 
amination, most of the contents of his father's study, including 
all family records. Thus I cannot offer any sort of family tree. 
But it is possible to show the kind of family and the social atmos 
phere into which Gilbert Chesterton was born. 

* Pp. 

2 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Some of the relatives say that the family hailed from the vil 
lage of Chesterton now merged into Cambridge, of which they 
were Lords of the Manor, but Gilbert refused to take this seri 
ously. In an introduction to a book called Life in Old Cambridge, 
he wrote: 

I have never been to Cambridge except as an admiring visitor; I 
have never been to Chesterton at all, either from a sense of unworthi- 
ness or from a faint superstitious feeling that I might be fulfilling a 
prophecy in the countryside. Anyone with a sense of the savour of 
the old English country rhymes and tales will share my vague alarm 
that the steeple might crack or the market cross fall down, for a 
smaller thing than the coincidence of a man named Chesterton go 
ing to Chesterton. 

At the time of the Regency, the head of the family was a 
friend of the Prince's and (perhaps as a result of such company) 
dissipated his fortunes in riotous living and incurred various 
terms of imprisonment for debt. From his debtors' prisons he 
wrote letters, and sixty years later Mr. Edward Chesterton used 
to read them to his family: as also those of another interesting 
relative, Captain George Laval Chesterton, prison reformer and 
friend of Mrs. Fry and of Charles Dickens. A relative recalls the 
sentence: "I cried, Dickens cried, we all cried," which makes one 
rather long for the rest of the letter. 

George Laval Chesterton left two books, one a kind of auto 
biography, the other a work on prison reform. It was a moment 
of enthusiasm for reform, of optimism and of energy. Dickens 
was stirring the minds of Englishmen to discover the evils in 
their land and rush to their overthrow. Darwin was writing his 
Origin of Species, which in some curious way increased the 
hopeful energy of his countrymen: they seemed to feel it much 
more satisfying to have been once animal and have become 
human than to be fallen gods who could again be made divine. 
Anyhow, there were giants in those days and it was hope that 
made them so. 

Background for Gilbert Keith Chesterton 3 

When by an odd confusion the Tribune described G. K. 
Chesterton as having been born about the date that Captain 
Chesterton published his books, he replied in a Ballade which at 
once saluted and attacked: 

I am not fond of anthropoids as such, 
I never went to Mr. Darwin's school, 
Old Tyndall's ether, that he liked so much 
Leaves me, I fear, comparatively cool. 
I cannot say my heart with hope is full 
Because a donkey, by continual kicks, 
Turns slowly into something like a mule 
I was not born in 1856. 

Age of my fathers: truer at the touch 
Than mine; Great age of Dickens, youth and yule: 
Had your strong virtues stood without a crutch, 
I might have deemed man had no need of rule, 
But I was born when petty poets pule, 
When madmen used your liberty to mix 
Lucre and lust, bestial and beautiful, 
I was not bom in 1856.* 

Both Autobiography and Prison Life are worth reading.f They 
breathe the "Great Gusto" seen by Gilbert in that era. He 
does not quote them in his Autobiography, but, just mention 
ing Captain Chesterton, dwells chiefly on his grandfather, who, 
while George Laval Chesterton was fighting battles and reform 
ing prisons, had succeeded to the headship of a house agents* 
business in Kensington. (For, the family fortunes having been 
dissipated, Gilbert's great-grandfather had become first a coal 
merchant and then a house agent.) A few of the letters between 
this ancestor and his son remain and they are interesting, con 
firming Gilbert's description in the Autobiography of his grand 
father's feeling that he himself was something of a landmark in 

* Quoted in G. K. Chesterton. A criticism. Alston Rivers (1908) pp. 243- 

t See Appendix A. 

4 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Kensington and that the family business was honourable and 

The Chestertons, whatever the ups and downs of their past 
history, were by now established in that English middle-class 
respectability in which their son was to discoveror into which 
he was to bringa glow and thrill of adventurous romance. 
Edward Chesterton, Gilbert's father, belonged to a serious fam 
ily and a serious generation, which took its work as a duty and 
its profession as a vocation, I wonder what young house-agent 
today, just entering the family business, would receive a letter 
from his father adjuring him to "become an active steady and 
honourable man of business," speaking of "abilities which only 
want to be judiciously brought out, of course assisted with your 
earnest co-operation." 

Gilbert's mother was Marie Grosjean, one of a family of 
twent^three children. The family had long been English, but 
came originally from French Switzerland. Marie's mother was 
Eom an Aberdeen family of Keiths, which gave Gilbert his sec 
ond name and a dash of Scottish blood which "appealed strongly 
to my affections and made a sort of Scottish romance In m^ 
childhood/* Marie's father, whom Gilbert never saw, hqii been 
r ^Sne of the old Wesleyan lay-preachers and was thus involved 
in public controversy, a characteristic which has descended to his 
grandchild. He was also one of the leaded of the early Teetotal 
movement, a characteristic which has n$t,** * 

When Edward became engaged to Marie Grosjean he com 
plained that his "dearest girl'* would not believe that he had any 
work to do, but he was in fact much occupied and increasingly 
responsible for the family business. 

There is a Savour of a world very remote from ours in the 
packet of letters between the two and from their various parents, 
aunts and sisters to one another during their engagement. Ed 
ward illuminates poems "for a certain dear good little child/' 

* Autobiography, pp. 11-12,. 

Background for Gilbert Keith Chesterton 5 

sketches the "look out from home" for her mother, hopes they did 
not appear uncivil in wandering into the garden together at an 
aunt's house and leaving the rest of the company for too long. He 
praises a friend of hers as "intellectual and unaffected, two excel 
lent things in woman," describes a clerk sent to France with busi 
ness papers who "lost them all, the careless dog, except the 
Illustrated London News." 

A letter to Marie from her sister .Jigijrnette is amusing. She 
describes her efforts at entertaining in the absence of her mother. 
The company were "great swells" so that her brother "took all the 
covers off the chairs himself and had the wine iced and we dined 
in full dressit was very awful considering myself as hostess." 
Poor girl, it was a series of misfortunes. "The dinner was three- 
quarters of an hour late, the fish done to rags." She had hired 
three dozen wine-glasses to be sure of enough, but they were 
"brought in in twos and threes at a time and .then a hiatus as 
if they were being washed which they were not." 

In the letters from parents and older relatives religious observ 
ances are taken for granted and there is an obvious sincerity in 
the many allusions to God's will and God's guidance of human 
life. No one reading them could doubt that the description of 
a dying relative as "ready for the summons" and "going home" 
is a sincere one. Other letters, notabty, Harriett^ 
i spice of malice ISnT^peaKng^oT^ose whose rel^i^^^as^w^real 

md affecteda TpKeno^ an age when 

- - 

fioubtless her generation wasbegi^^ 

wmTTessTl^^ They were hear 

ing of Darwin and Spencer, and the optimism which accompa 
nied the idea of evolution was turning religion into a vague glow 
which would, they felt, survive the somewhat childish dogmas 
in which our rude ancestors had tried to formulate it. But with 
an increased vagueness went also, with the more liberal and the 
Chestertons were essentially liberal both politically and theologi- 

6 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

cally an increased tolerance. In several of his letters, Edward 
Chesterton mentions the Catholic Church, and certainly with 
no dislike. He went on one occasion to hear Manning preach 
and much admired the sermon, although he notes too that he 
found in it "no distinctively Roman Catholic doctrine/' He 
belonged, however, to an age that on the whole found the rest 
of life more exciting and interesting than religion, an age that 
had kept the Christian virtues and still believed that these vir 
tues could stand alone, without the support of the Christian 

"The temptation to describe dresses has always to be sternly 
resisted when dealing with any part of the Victorian era, so 
merely pausing to note that it seems to have been a triumph on 
the part of Mrs. Grosjean to have cut a short skirt out of 8 ! /2 
yards of material, I reluctantly lay aside the letters at the time 
when Edward Chesterton and Marie were married and had set 
about living happily ever after. 

These two had no fear of life: they belonged to a generation 
which cheerfully created a home and brought fresh life into 
being. In doing it, they did a thousand other things, so that the 
home they made was full of vital energies for the children who 
were to grow up in it. Gilbert recollects his father as a man of 
a dozen hobbies, his study as a place where these hobbies formed 
strata of exciting products, awakening youthful covetousness in 
the matter of a new paint-box, satisfying youthful imagination 
by the production of a toy-theatre. His character, serene and 
humorous as his son describes him, is reflected in his letters. 
Edward Chesterton did not use up his mental powers in the 
family business. Taught by his father to be a good man of busi 
ness, he was in his private life a man of a thousand other ener 
gies and ideas. "On the whole," says his son,* "I am glad he was 
never an artist. It might have stood in his way in becoming an 

* Autobiography, p. 35. 

Background for Gilbert Keith Chesterton 7 

amateur. It might have spoilt his career; his private career. He 
could never have made a vulgar success of all the thousand 
things he did so successfully." 

Here, Gilbert sees a marked distinction between that genera 
tion of business men and the present in the use of leisure; he 
sees hobbies as superior to sport. < Theold-fashioined English 
man, like my father, sold houses for his living but filled his, QWJI. 
house with his life. A hobby is not merely a holiday. ... It is_ 
not merely exercising the body instead qfthe mind^ an exc^lent 
tut now largely a recognised thing. It is exercising., the lestjgf m 
the mind; now an almost neglected thing."JEdward Chesterton 
practised "water-colour painting and modelling and ^^tograpKy^ 
"and stamed"glass and Eefwork^and magic lanterns and mediaeval 
flhiffiSnation." And, moreover, "knew all his English literature 

ne of late the fashion for any one who writes of his 

own life to see himself agaJnsL^^ 

development fjusti^ 

horror of environment. But Gilbert saw his life rather as the 

ancients saw it when yietas was a duty because we had received 

so much from those who brought us into being. This English 

man was grateful to his country, to his parents, to his home for 

all that they had given him. 

Iregretj^at J. have no gloomy and savage father to offer to th\ 
puEIicgaze as tli^THie^usiror^iny tragic heritage; no pale-faced 
and partially poisoned mother whose suicidal instincts have cursed 
me with the temptations of the artistic temperament. I regret that 
there was nothing in the range of our family much more racy than a 
remote and mildly impecunious uncle; and that I cannot do my duty 
as a true modern, by cursing everybody who made me whatever I 
am. I am not clear about what that is; but I am pretty sure that 
most of it is my own fault. And I am compelled to confess that I 
look back to that landscape of my first days with a pleasure that 
should doubtless be reserved for the Utopias of the Futurist.* 


GILBERT KEITH CHESTERTON was born on May 29, 1874 
x at a house in Sheffield Terrace, Campden Hill, just 
below the great tower of the Waterworks which so much 
impressed his childish imagination. Lower down the hill was 
the Anglican Church of St. George, and here he was baptised. 
When he was about five, the family moved to Warwick Gar 
den^ As old-Fashioned London houses go, 11 Warwick Gar 
dens is small. On the ground floor, a back and front room were 
For the Chestertons drawing-room and dining-room with a fold 
ing door between, the only other sitting-room being a small study 
built out over the garden. A long, narrow, green strip, which 
must have been a good deal longer before a row of garages was 
built at the back, was Gilbert's playground. His bedroom was 
a long room at the top of a not very high house* For what is in 
most London houses the drawing-room floor is in this house filled 
by two bedrooms and there is only one floor above it. 

jQgoLjw^fiw^aK w^lora^dJbu^ 

birth with the remark, "Now I shall always have an awd|@aO&/ ? 
a proj^ecyFemembereXby all parties because it proved so singu 
larly false. As soon as Cecil could speak, he began to argue and 
the brothers' intercourse thenceforward consisted of unending 
discussion. The)f always argued, they never quarrelled. 

^There v$$is also a littk. feter Beatrice who died when Gilbert 
was very young, so vounp that .he ~^ ~ 


Childhood 9 

from a rocking-horse more clearly than he remembered her 
death, arid in his memory linked jwith the fall the sense of loss 
and sorrow that came with the death.^ v """*"*"" 

It would be impossible to tell the story of his childhood one 
half so well as he has tcld it himself. It is the best part of hi< 
Autobiography. Indeed, it is one of the best childhoods in lit 
erature. For Gilbert Chesterton most perfectly remembered the 
exact truth, not only about what happened to a child, but about 
how a child thought and felt. What is more, he sees childhood 
not as an isolated fragment or an excursion into fairyland, but 
as his "real life; the real beginnings of what should have been a 
more real life; a lost experience in the land of the living." 

I was subconsciously certain then, as I am consciously certain now, 
that there was the white and solid road and the worthy beginning of 
the life of man; and that it is man who afterwards darkens it with 
dreams or goes astray from it in self-deception. It is only the grown 
man who lives a life of make-believe and pretending; and it is he who 
has his head in a cloud.* 

Here are the beginnings of the man's philosophy in the life 
and experience of the child. He was living in a world of reality, 
and that reality was beautiful, in the clear light of "an eternal 
morning/' which "had a sort of wonder in it, as if the world were 
as new as myself." A child in this world, like God in the moment 
of creation, looks upon it and sees that it is very good. It was 
not that he was never unhappy as a child, and he had his share 
of bodily pain "I* had a fair amount of toothache and especially 
earache." But the child has ,his own philosophy and makes his 
own proportion, and unhappiness and pain "are of a different 
texture or held oi\ a different tenure." 

What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was 
a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miracu 
lous world. What gives me 'this shock is almost anything I really 
recall; not the things I should think most worth recalling. This is 

Autobiography, p. 49. 

io Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

where it differs from the other great thrill o the past, all that is con 
nected with first love and the romantic passion; for that, though 
equally poignant, comes always to a point; and is narrow like a rapier 
piercing the heart, whereas the other was more like a hundred win 
dows opened on all sides of the head.* 

These windows opening on all sides so much more swiftly for 
the genius than for the rest of us, led to a result often to be 
noted in the childhood of exceptional men: a combination of 
backwardness and precocity. Gilbert Chesterton was in some 
ways a very backward child. He did not talk much before three, 
He learnt to read only at eight* 

He loved fairy tales: as a child he read them or had them 
read aloud to him: as a big boy he wrote and illustrated a good 
many, some of which are printed in The Coloured Lands. I have 
found several fragments in praise of Hans Andersen written ap 
parently in his schooldays. In the chapter of Orthodoxy called 
"The Ethics of Elfland" he shows how the truth about good 
ness and happiness came to him out of the old fairy tales and 
made the first basis for his philosophy. And George Macdonald's 
story The Princess and the GoHin made, he says, "a difference 
to my whole existence, which helped me to see things in a cer 
tain way from the start" It is the story of a house where goblins 
were in the cellar and a kind of fairy godmother in a hidden 
room upstairs. This story had made "all the ordinary staircases 
and doors and windows into magical things/' It was the awaken 
ing of the sense of wonder and joy in the ordinary things always 
to be his. Still more important was the realization represented 
by the goblins below stairs, that "When the evil things besieging 
us do appear, they do not appear outside but inside/* In life as 
in this story there is 

... a house that is our home, that is rightly loved as our home, 
but of which we hardly know the best or the worst, and must always 
wait for the one and watch against the other. , . . Since I first read 

* Autobiography, pp. 31-32. 


From an oil-painting by Baccari (l8Si). 

Childhood 1 1 

that story some five alternative philosophies of the universe have 
come to our colleges out of Germany, blowing through the world 
like the east wind. But for me that castle is still standing in the 
mountains, its light is not put out.* 

All this to Gilbert made the story the "most real, the most real 
istic, in the exact sense of the phrase the most like life" of any 
story he ever read then or later! Another recurrent image in 
books by the same author is that of a great white horse. 
And Gilbert says, 'To this day I can never see a big white 
horse in the street without a sudden sense of indescribable 

Of his playmates, "one of my first memories," he writes in the 
Autobiography, "is playing in the garden under the care of a girl 
with ropes of golden hair; to whom my mother afterwards called 
out from the house, 'You are an angel'; which I was disposed to 
accept without metaphor. She is now living in Vancouver as 
Mrs. Robert Kidd." 

Mrs, Kidd, then Annie Firmin, was the daughter of a girl 
hood friend of Mrs. Chesterton's. She called her "Aunt Marie/' 
She and her sister, Gilbert says in the Autobiography, "had more 
to do with enlivening my early years than most/' She has a vivid 
memory of Sheffield Terrace where all three Chesterton chil 
dren were born and where the little sister, Beatrice, whom they 
called Birdie, died. Gilbert, in those days, was called Diddie, his 
father then and later was "Mr. Ed" to the family and intimate 
friends. Soon after Birdie's death they moved to Warwick 
Gardens. Mrs. Kidd writes: 

. . . the little boys were never allowed to see a funeral. If one passed 
down Warwick Gardens, they were hustled from the nursery win 
dow at once. Possibly this was because Gilbert had such a fear of 
sickness or accident. If Cecil gave the slightest sign of choking at 
dinner, Gilbert would throw down his spoon or fork and rush from 
the room. I have seen him do it so many times. Cecil was fond of 
* Introduction to George Macdonald and His Wife. 

12, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

animals. Gilbert wasn't. Cecil had a cat that he named Faustine, 
because he wanted her to be abandoned and wicked but Faustine 
turned out to be a gentleman! 

Gilbert's story-telling and verse-making began very early, but 
not, I think, in great abundance; his drawing even earlier, and 
of this there is a great deal. There is nothing very striking in 
the written fragments that remain, but his drawings even at the 
age of five are full of vigour. The faces and figures are always 
rudimentary human beings, sometimes a good deal more, and 
they are taken through lengthy adventures drawn on the backs 
of bits of wall paper, of insurance forms, in little books sewn 
together, or sometimes on long strips glued end to end by his 
father. These drawings can often be dated exactly, for Edward 
Chesterton, who later kept collections of press-cuttings and pho 
tographs of his son, had already begun to collect his drawings, 
writing the date on the back of each. With the earlier ones he 
may, one sometimes suspects, have helped a little, but it soon be 
comes easy to distinguish between the two styles* 

Edward Chesterton was the most perfect father that could 
have been imagined to help in the opening of windows on every 
side. "My father might have reminded people of Mr. Pickwick, 
except that he was always bearded and never bald; he wore spec 
tacles and had all the Pickwickian evenness of temper and 
pleasure in the humours of travel." He had, as his son further 
notes in the Autobiography, a power of invention which "created 
for children the permanent anticipation of what is profoundly 
called a 'Surprise/ 1 ' The child of today chooses his Christmas 
present in advance and decides between Peter Pan and the 
Pantomime (when he does not get both). The Chesterton chil 
dren saw their first glimpses of fantasy through the framework 
of a toy-theatre of which their father was carpenter, scene- 
painter and scene-shifter, author and creator of actors and 
actresses a few inches high. Gilbert's earliest recollection is of 
one of these figures in a golden crown carrying a golden key, 

Childhood 13 

and his father was all through his childhood a man with a golden 
key who admitted him into a world of wonders. 

I think Gilbert's father meant more to him than his mother, 
fond as he was of her. Most of their friends seem to feel that 
Cecil was her favorite son. "Neither was ever demonstrative," 
Annie Firmin says, "I never saw either of them kiss his mother." 
But in some ways the mother spoilt both boys. They had not 
the training that a strict mother or an efficient nurse usually ac 
complishes with the most refractory. Gilbert was never refractory, 
merely absent-minded; but it is doubtful whether he was sent 
upstairs to wash his hands or brush his hair, except in prepara 
tion for a visit or ceremonial occasion ("not even then!" interpo 
lates Annie). And it is perfectly certain that he ought to have 
been so sent several times a day. No one minded if he was late 
for meals; his father, too, was frequently late and Frances during 
her engagement often saw his mother put the dishes down in the 
fireplace to keep hot, and wait patiently in spite of Gilbert's 
description of her as "more swift, relentless and generally radical 
in her instincts" than his father. Annie Firmin's earlier memo 
ries fit this description better. Much as she loved her "aunt," she 

Aunt Marie was a bit of a tyrant in her own family! I have been 
many times at dinner, when there might be a joint, say, and a 
chicken and she would say positively to Mr. Ed. "Which will you 
have, EdwardX' Edward: "I think Fd like a bit of chicken!'' Aunt 
M. fiercely: "No, you won't, you'll have mutton!" That happened so 
often. Sometimes Alice Grosjean, the youngest of Aunt M/s fam 
ily, familiarly known as "Sloper," was there. When asked her pref 
erence she would say, diffidently, "I think I'll take a little mutton!'* 
"Don't be a fool, Alice, you know you like chicken/'and chicken 
she got. 

Visitors to the house in later years dwell on Mrs. Chesterton's 
immense spirit of hospitality, die gargantuan meals, the eager 
desire that guests should eat enormously, and the wittiness of 

14 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

her conversation. Schoolboy contemporaries of Gilbert say that 
although immensely kind, she alarmed them by a rather forbid 
ding appearance "her clothes thrown on anyhow, and black 
ened and protruding teeth which gave her a witchlike appear 
ance. . . . The house too was dusty and untidy." She called 
them always by their surnames, both when they were little boys 
and after they grew up, "Oldershaw, Bentley, Solomon/' 

"Not only," says Miss May Chesterton, "did Aunt Marie ad 
dress Gilbert's friends by their surnames, but frequently added 
darling to them. I have heard her address Bentley when a young 
man thus: 'Bentley darling, come and sit over here/ to which 
invitation he turned a completely deaf ear as he was perfectly 
content to remain where he was!' 

"Indiscriminately, she also addressed her maids waiting at 
table with the same endearment." 

A letter written when Gilbert was only six would seem to 
show that Mrs. Chesterton had not yet become so reckless about 
her appearance, and was still open to the appeal of millinery. 
("She always was," says Annie.) The letter is from John Barker 
of High Street, Kensington, and is headed in handwriting, 
"Drapery and Millinery Establishment, Kensington High Street, 
September 21, 1880." 


We are in receipt of instructions from Mr. Edward Chesterton to 
wait upon you for the purpose of offering for your selection a Bonnet 
of the latest Parisian taste, of which we have a large assortment 
ready for your choice; or can, if preferred, make you one to order. 

Our assistant will wait upon you at any time you may appoint, 
unless you would prefer to pay a visit to our Millinery department 

Mr. Chesterton informs us that as soon as you have made your 
selection he will hand us a cheque for the amount. 

We are given to understand that Mr. Chesterton proposes this 
transaction as a remembrance of the anniversary of what, he instructs 
us to say, he regards as a happy and auspicious event. We have 
accordingly entered it in our books in that aspect. 

Childhood 1 5 

In conveying, as we are desired to do, Mr. Chesterton's best wishes 
for your health and happiness for many future anniversaries, may 
we very respectfully join to them our own, and add that during 
many years to come we trust to be permitted to supply you with 
goods of the best description for cash, on the principle of the lowest 
prices consistent with excellence of quality and workmanship. 
We have the honour to be 

Your most obedient Servants 


The order entered in their books "under that aspect/* the readi 
ness to provide millinery "for cash/' convinces you (as G.K. 
himself says of another story) that Dick Swiveller really did say, 
"When he who adores thee has left but the name in case of 
letters and parcels/' Dickens must have dictated the letter to 
John Barker. After all, he was only dead ten years. 

"Aunt Marie used to say/' adds Annie Firmin, "that Mr. Ed 
married her for her beautiful hair, it was auburn, and very long 
and wavy. He used to sit behind her in Church. She liked pretty 
clothes, but lacked the vanity to buy them for herself. I have a 
little blue hanging watch that he bought her one day she always 
appreciated little attentions/' 

The playmates of Gilbert's childhood are not described in the 
Autobiography except for Annie's "long ropes of golden hair." 
But in one of the innumerable fragments written in his early 
twenties, he describes a family of girls who had played with him 
when they were very young together. It is headed, "Chapter I. 
A Contrast and a Climax," and several other odd bits of verse 
and narrative introduce the Vivian family as early and constant 

One of the best ways of feeling a genuine friendly enthusiasm for 
persons of the other sex, without gliding into anything with a shorter 
name, is to know a whole family of them. The most intellectual 
idolatry at one shrine is apt to lose its purely intellectual character, 
but a oenial nolvtheism is alwavs bracing and platonic. Besides, the 

1 6 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Vivians lived in the same street or rather "gardens" as ourselves, and 
were amusing as bringing one within sight of what an old friend 
of mine, named Bentley, called with more than his usual gloom and 
severity of expression, "the remote outpost of Kensington Society/' 

For these reasons, and a great many much better ones, I was very 
much elated to have the family, or at least the three eldest girls who 
represent it to the neighbourhood, standing once more on the well- 
rubbed lawn of our old garden, where some of my earliest recollec 
tions were of subjecting them to treatment such as I considered ap 
propriate to my own well-established character of robber, tying them 
to trees to the prejudice of their white frocks, and otherwise misbe 
having myself in the funny old days, before I went to school and 
became a son of gentlemen only. I have never been able, in fact I 
have never tried, to tell which of the three I really liked best. And if 
the severer usefulness and domesticity of the eldest girl, with her 
quiet art-colours, and broad, brave forehead as pale as the white roses 
that clouded the garden, if these maturer qualities in Nina demanded 
my respect more than the levity of the others, I fear they did not 
prevent me feeling an almost equal tide of affection towards the 
sleepy acumen and ingrained sense of humour of Ida, the second 
girl and book-reader for the family: or Violet, a veritably delightful 
child, with a temper as formless and erratic as her tempest of red hair. 

'What old memories this garden calls up," said Nina, who like 
many essentially simple and direct people, had a strong dash of sen 
timent and a strong penchant for being her own emotional pint- 
stoup on the traditional subjects and occasions. "I remember so well 
coming here in a new pink frock when I was a little girl. It wasn't 
so new when I went away." 

"I certainly must have been a brute," I replied. "But I have 
endeavoured to make a lifetime atone for my early conduct." And I 
fell to thinking how even Nina, miracle of diligence and self- 
effacement, remembered a new pink frock across the abyss of the 
years. . . . Walking with my old friends round the garden, I found 
in every earth-plot and tree-root the arenas of an active and ad- 
venturous life in early boyhood. . . .* 

Edward Chesterton was a Liberal politically and what has 
been called a Liberal Christian religiously. When the family 
went to church which happened very seldom it was to listen 

* Unpublished fragment. 

Childhood 1 7 

to the sermons of Stopford Brooke. Some twenty years later, 
Cecil was to remark with amusement that he had as a small hoy 
heard every part of the teaching now (1908) being set out by 
R. J. Campbell under the title, "The New Religion." The Ches 
terton Liberalism entered into the view of history given to their 
children, and it produced from Gilbert the only poem of his 
childhood worth quoting. I cannot date it, but the very imma 
ture handwriting and curious spelling mark it as early. 

Probably most children have read, or at any rate up to my 
own generation, had read, Aytoun's Lays of the Scottish Cava 
liers, and played at being Cavaliers as a result. But Gilbert could 
not play at being a Cavalier* He had learned from his father to 
be a Roundhead, as had every good Liberal of that day. What 
was to be done about it? He took the Lays and rewrote them in 
an excellent imitation of Aytoun, but on the opposite side. In 
view of his own later developments such a line as "Drive the 
trembling Papists backwards" has an ironic humour. But one 
wonders what Aytoun himself would have made of a small boy 
who took his rhythm and sometimes his very words, turned his 
hero into a traitor ("false Montrose") and his traitor Argyll into 
a hero! I have left the spelling untouched. 

Sing of the Great Lord Archibald 
Sing of his glorious name 
Sing of his covenanting faith 
And his evelasting fame. 

One day he summoned all his men 
To meet on Cruerchin's brow 
Three thousand covenenting chiefs 
Who no master would allow 

Three thousand Knights 

With clamores drawn 

And targets tough and strong 

Knights who for the right 

Would ever fight 

And never bear the wrong. 

1 8 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

And he creid (his hand uplifted) 
"Soldiers of Scotland hear my vow 
Ere the morning shall have risen 
I will lay the trators low 
Or as ye march from the battle 
Marching back in battle file 
Ye shall there among the corpses 
Find the body of Argyll. 

Soldiers Soldiers onward onward 
Onward soldiers follow me 
Come, remember ye the crimes 
Of the fiend of fell Dundee 
Onward let us draw our clamores 
Let us draw them on our foes 
Now then I am threatened with 
The fate of false Montrose. 

Drive the trembling Papists backwards 
Drive away the Tory's hord 
Let them tell thier hous of villians 
They have felt the Campbell's sword," 

And the next morn he arose 

And he girded on his sword 

They asked him many questions 

But he answered not a word. 

And he summoned all his men 

And he led them to the field 

And We creid unto our master 

That we'd die and never yield. 

That same morn we drove right backwards 

All the servants of the Pope 

And Our Lord Archibald we saved 

From a halter and a rope 

Far and fast fled all the trators 

Far and fast fled all the Graemes 

Fled that cursed tribe who lately 

Stained there honour and thier names. 

School Days 

t 'URIOUSLY ENOUGH Gilbert does not in the Autobiography 
V^ speak of any school except St Paul's, He went however 
first to Colet Court, usually called at that time Bewsher's, from 
the name of the Headmaster, Though it is not technically the 
preparatory school for St. Paul's, large numbers of Paulines do 
pass through it. It stands opposite St. Paul's in the Hammer 
smith Road and must have been felt by Gilbert as one thing 
with his main school experience, for he nowhere differentiates 
between the two. 

St. Paul's School is an old city foundation which has had 
among its scholars Milton and Marlborough, Pepys and Sir 
Philip Francis and a host of other distinguished men. The editor 
of a correspondence column wrote a good many years later in 
answer to an enquirer: "Yes, Milton and G. K. Chesterton were 
both educated at St. Paul's school We fancy however that Mil 
ton had left before Chesterton entered the school/' In an early 
life of Sir Thomas More we learn of the keen rivalry existing in 
his day between his own school of St. Anthony and St. Paul's, 
of scholastic "disputations" between the two, put an end to by 
Dean Colet because they led to brawling among the boys, when 
the Paulines would call those of St. Anthony "pigs" and the pigs 
would call the Paulines "pigeons" from the pigeons of St. Paul's 
Cathedral Now, however, St. Anthony's is no more, and St. 
Paul's School has long moved to the suburbs and lies about 
seven minutes' walk along the Hammersmith Road from War 
wick Gardens. Gilbert Chesterton was twelve when he entered 


20 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

St. Paul's (in January 1887) and he was placed in the second 

His early days at school were very solitary, his chief occupa 
tion being to draw all over his books. He drew caricatures of 
his masters, he drew scenes from Shakespeare, he drew promi 
nent politicians. He did not at first make many friends. In the 
Autobiography he makes a sharp distinction between being a 
child and being a boy, but it is a distinction that could only be 
drawn by a man. And most men, I fancy, would find it a little 
difficult to say at what moment the transformation occurred. 
G.K. seems to put it at the beginning of school life, but the fact 
that St. Paul's was a day-school meant that the transition from 
home to school, usual in English public-school education,* was 
never in his case completely made. No doubt he is right in 
speaking in the Autobiography of "the sort of prickly protec 
tion like hair'' that "grows over what was once the child/' of the 
fact that schoolboys in his time "could be blasted with the hor 
rible revelation of having a sister, or even a Christian name/ 1 
Nevertheless, he went home every evening to a father and 
mother and small brother; he went to his friends' houses and 
knew their sisters; school and home life met daily instead of 
being sharply divided into terms and holidays. 

This ., fact was of immense significance in Gilbert's develop 
ment. Years later he noted as the chief defect of Oxford that it 
consisted almost entirely of people educated at boarding-schools. 
For good, for evil, or for both, a boy at a day-school is educated 
chiefly at home. 

* The terminology for English schools came into being largely before the 
State concerned itself with education. A Private School is one run by an 
individual or a group for private profit. A Public School is not run for private 
profit; any profits there may be are put back into the school. Mostly they are 
run by a Board of Governors and very many of them hold the succession to 
the old monastic schools of England (e.g. Charterhouse, Westminster, St. 
Paul's). They are usually, though not necessarily, hoarding schools, and the 
fees are usually high. Elementary schools called Board Schools were paid for 
out of local rates and run by elected School Boards. They were later replaced 
by schools run by the County Councils. 

School Days 


In the atmosphere of St. Paul's is found little echo of the dogma 
of the Head Master of Christ's Hospital "Boy! The school is your 
father! Boy! The school is your mother/' Nor, as far as we know has 
any Pauline been known to desire the substitution of the august 
abstraction for the guardianship of his own people. Friendships 
formed in this school have a continual reference to home life, nor 
can a boy possibly have a friend long without making the acquaint 
ance and feeling the influence of his parents and his surroundings. 
. . . The boys' own amusements and institutions, the school sports, 
the school clubs, the school magazine, are patronised by the masters, 
but they are originated and managed by the boys. The play-hours of 
the boys are left to their several pleasures, whether physical or intel 
lectual, nor have any foolish observations about the battle of Waterloo 
being won on the cricket-field, or such rather unmeaning oracles, yet 
succeeded in converting the boys' amusements into a compulsory 
gymnastic lesson. The boys are, within reasonable limits, free.* 

Gilbert calls the chapter on his school days, "How to be a 
Dunce/* and although in mature life he was "on the side of his 
masters" and grateful to them "that my persistent efforts not to 
learn Latin were frustrated; and that I was not entirely success 
ful even in escaping the contamination of the language of 
Aristotle and Demosthenes/' he still contrasts childhood as a time 
when one "wants to know nearly everything" with "the period 
of what is commonly called education; that is, the period during 
which I was being instructed by somebody I did not know about 

something I did not want to know." 


The boy who sat next to him in class, Lawrence Solomon 
(later Senior Tutor of University College, London), remem 
bered him as sleepy and indifferent in manner but able to master 
anything when he cared to take the trouble as he very seldom 
did. He was in a class with boys almost all his juniors. Lucian 
Oldershaw, who later became his brother-in-law, says of Gil 
bert's own description of his school life that it was as near a pose 
as Gilbert ever managed to get. He wanted desperately to be 

* MS. History of J.D.C. written about 1894, 

'az Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

the ordinary schoolboy, but he never managed to fulfill this 
ambition. Tall, untidy, incredibly clumsy and absent-minded, 
he was marked out from his fellows both physically and intel 
lectually. When in the later part of his school life some sort of 
physical exercises were made compulsory, the boys used to form 
parties to watch his strange efforts on the trapeze or parallel bars. 
In these early days, he was (he says of himself) "somewhat soli 
tary/* but not unhappy, and perfectly good-humoured about the 
tricks which were inevitably played on a boy who always ap 
peared to be half asleep. 

"He sat at the back of the room," says Mr. Fordham, "and 
never distinguished himself. We thought him the most curious 
thing that ever was." His schoolfellows noted how he would 
stride along, "apparently muttering poetry, breaking into inane 
laughter/' The kind of thing he was muttering we learn from a 
sentence in the Autobiography: "I was one day wandering about 
the streets in that part of North Kensington, telling myself 
stories of feudal sallies and sieges, in the manner of Walter 
Scott, and vaguely trying to apply them to the wilderness of 
bricks and mortar around me/' 

"I can see him now/' wrote Mr. Fordham, "very tall and lanky, 
striding untidily along Kensington High Street, smiling and 
sometimes scowling as he talked to himself, apparently oblivious 
of everything he passed; but in reality a far closer observer than 
most, and one who not only observed but remembered what he 
had seen/' It was only of himself that he was really oblivious. 

Mr, Oldershaw remembers that on one occasion on a very 
cold day they filled his pockets with snow in the playground. 
When class reassembled, the snow began to melt and pools to 
appear on the floor. A small boy raised his hand: "Please Sir, I 
think the laboratory sink must be leaking again. The water is 
coming through and falling all over Chesterton/' 

The laboratory sink was an old offender and the master must 
have been short-sighted. "Chesterton/' he said, "go up to 

School Days 23 

-- and ask him with my compliments to see that the 
trouble with the sink is put right immediately/' Gilbert, with 
water still streaming from both pockets, obediently went up 
stairs, gave the message and returned without discovering what 
had happened. 

The boys who played these jokes on him had at the same 
time an extraordinary respect, both for his intellectual acquire 
ments and for his moral character. One boy, who rather prided 
himself in private life on being a man about town, stopped him 
one day in the passage and said solemnly, "Chesterton, I am an 
abandoned profligate, j G.K. replied, "I'm sorry to hear it." 
"We watched our talk," one of them said to me, "when he was 
with us." His home and upbringing were felt by some of his 
schoolfellows to have definitely a Puritan tinge about them, 


although on the pther hand the r 

^ T ^/I^ ,4 .<*/'+**?'<*<* te{ /C<2 Or^fV X^^^V^^ 7 "^^^ 

regarded them as politically dangerous. Mr. Uldershaw relates 
that his own father, who was a Conservative in politics and had 
also joined the Catholic Church, seriously warned him against 
the Agnosticism and Republicanism of the Chesterton house 
hold. But even at this age his schoolfellows recognised that he 
had begun the great quest of his life. *^^^^ wS^^^^fi^ 
"that he was looking for God." 

I suppose it was in part the keenness of the inner vision that 
produced the effect of external sleepiness and made it possible 
to pack Gilbert's pockets with snow; but it was also the fact that 
he was observing very keenly jthe kind^f thingjhat 


<!q gg3SiEer to observe, I remember my mother 
when I first came out, that she had almost ceased trying to 
draw people's characters and imaginatively construct their home 
lives, because for the first time in her life she was trying to 
notice how they were dressed. She was not noticeably success 
ful. Gilbert hesterton never everied 

else sawTjAll f die, time-lu^ 

ideas in literature and possibilities in life. And all this wojld 

24 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

of imagination had, on his own theory, to be carefully concealed 
from his masters. In the Autobiography he describes himself 
walking to school fervently reciting verses which he afterwards 
repeated in class with a determined lack of expression and wood- 
enness of voice; but when he assumes that this is how all boys 
behave, he surely attributes his own literary enthusiasms far 
too widely. One would rather gather that he supposed the whole 
of St Paul's School to be in the conspiracy to conceal their love 
of literature from their masters! Such of his owr^^hoolboy 
papers as can be found show an imagination rare enough at any 
age, an^n^ejpjjaujsiasm aot commonly to be found among school 
boys, A very early one, to judge by the handwriting, is on the 
advantages for an historical character of having long hair, illus 
trated by the history of Mary Queen of Scots and Charles the 
First. In the contrast he draws between Mary and Elizabeth,, 
appear qualities of historical imagination that might welj[ 
to a mature an^ experienced writer. 

~ "'' 

As in the cause of f!e fleeting heartless Helen, the Trojan War 
is stirred up, and great Ajax perishes, and the gentle Patroclus is 
slain, and mighty Hector falls, and godlike Achilles is laid low, and 
the dun plains of Hades are thickened with the shades of Kings, so 
round this lovely giddy French princess, fall one by one the haughty 
Dauphin, the princely Darnley, the accomplished Rizzio, the terrible 
Bothwell, and when she dies, she dies as a martyr before the weeping 
eyes of thousands, and is given a popular pity and regret denied to 
her rival, with all her faults of violence and vanity, a greater and a 
purer woman. 

It must indeed have been a terrible scene, the execution of that 
unhappy Queen, and it is a scene that has been described by too 
many and too able writers for me to venture on a picture of it. But 
the continually lamented death of Mary of Scotland seems to me 
happy compared with the end of her greater and sterner rival. As I 
think on the two, the vision of the black scaffold, the grim headsman, 
the serene captive, and the weeping populace fades from me and is 
replaced by a sadder vision; the vision of the dimly-lighted state- 
bedroom of Whitehall Elizabeth, haggard and wild-eyed has flung 

School Days i^ 

herself prone upon the floor and refuses to take meat or drink, but 
lies there, surrounded by ceremonious courtiers, but seeing with that 
terrible insight that was her curse, that she was alone, that their 
homage was a mockery, that they were waiting eagerly for her death 
to crown their intrigues with her successor, that there was not in the 
whole world a single being who cared for her: seeing all this, and 
bearing it with the iron fortitude of her race, but underneath that 
invincible silence the deep woman's nature crying out with a bitter 
cry that she is loved no longer: thus gnawed by the fangs of a dead 
vanity, haunted by the pale ghost of Essex, and helpless and bitter 
of heart, the greatest of Englishwomen passed silently away. Of a 
truth, there are prisons more gloomy than Fotheringay and deaths 
more cruel than the axe. Is there no pity due to those who undergo 

It is surprising to read the series of form reports written on a 
boy who at fifteen or sixteen could do work of this quality. Here 
are the half-yearly reports made by his Form Mastery from his 
first year in the school at the age of thirteenjtojh^jfcie he left 
at the age of eighteen. 

December 1887. Too much for me: means well by me, I believe, 
but has an inconceivable knack of forgetting at the shortest 
notice, is consequently always in trouble, though some of his 
work is well done, when he does remember to do it. He ought 
to be in a studio not at school. Never troublesome, but for his 
lack of memory and absence of mind. 

July 1888. Wildly inaccurate about everything; never thinks for 
two consecutive moments to judge by his work: plenty of abil 
ity, perhaps in other directions than classics. 

December 1888. Fair. Improving in neatness. Has a very fair stock 
of general knowledge. 

July 1889. A great blunderer with much intelligence. 

December 1889. Means well. Would do better to give his tone to 
"Modern" subjects. 

^uly i8po. Can get up any work, but originates nothing. 

"December 1890. Takes an interest in his English work, but other 
wise has not done well. 

J uly z8pi. He has a decided literary aptitude, but does not trouble 
himself enough about school work. 

26 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

December 1891. Report missing. 

July 1892. Not on the same plane with the rest: composition quite 
futile, but will translate well and appreciate what he reads. Not 
a quick brain, but possessed by a slowly moving tortuous imagi 
nation. Conduct always admirable. 

What is much clearer from the mass of notebooks and odd 
sheets of paper belonging to these years than from the Autobiog 
raphy is the degree to which the two processes of resisting and 
absorbing knowledge were going on simultaneously. At school 
he was, he says^ asleep but dreaming in his sleep ; at home he 
was still learning literature from his father, going to museums 
and picture galleries for enjoyment, listening to political talk 
and engaging in arguments, writing historical plays and acting 
them, and above all drawing. 

To most of his early writing it is nearly impossible to affix a 
date with the exception of a "dramatic journal," kept by fits 
and starts during the Christmas holidays when he was sixteen. 
G.K. solemnly tells the reader of this diary to take warning by it, 
to beware of prolixity, and it does in fact contain many more 
words to many fewer ideas than any of his later writings. But it 
is useful in giving the atmosphere of those years. Great part 
is in dialogue, the author appearing throughout as Your Humble 
Servant, his young brother Cecil as the Innocent Child. 

The first scene is the rehearsal of a dramatic version of Scott's 
Woodstock, This has been written by Your Humble Servant 
who is at the same time engaged on a historic romance. At inter 
vals in the languid rehearsing, endless discussions take place; 
between Oldershaw and G.K. on Thackeray, between Older- 
shaw, his father and G.K. on Royal Supremacy in the Church 
of England. The boys, walking between their two houses, 
"discuss Roman Catholicism, Supremacy, Papal v. Protestant 
Persecutions. Your Humble Servant arrives at 1 1 Warwick Gar 
dens to meet Mr. Mawer Cowtan, Master Sidney Wells and 
Master William Wells. Conversation about Frederick the Great, 

School Days 27 

Voltaire and Macaulay. Cheerful and enlivening discourse on 
Germs, Dr. Koch, Consumption and Tuberculosis/* 

"Conservative" Oldershaw regards his friend as a "red hot 
raging Republican" and it is interesting to note already faint 
foreshadowings of Gilbert's future political views. His parents 
had made him a Liberal but it seemed to him later, as he notes 
in the Autobiography, that their generation was insufficiently 
alive to the condition and sufferings of the poor. Open-eyed in 
so many matters, they were not looking in that particular direc 
tion. And so it was only very gradually that he himself began 
to look. 

Your Humble Servant read Oldershaw Elizabeth Browning's "Cry 
of the Children," which the former could scarcely trust himself to 
read, but which the latter candidly avowed that he did not like. Part 
and parcel of Oldershaw's optimism is a desire not to believe in pic 
tures of real misery, and a desire to find out compensating pleasures. 
I think there was a good deal in what he said, but at the same time 
I think that there is real misery, physical and mental, in the low 
and criminal classes, and I don't believe in crying peace where there 
is no peace* 

Of his brother, Gilbert notes, "Innocent Child's fault is not 
a servile reverence for his elder brother, whom he regards, I 
believe, as a mild lunatic." And Oldershaw recalls his own detes 
tation of Cecil, who would insist on monopolising the conver 
sation when Gilbert's friends wanted to talk to him. "An ugly 
little boy creeping about," Mr. Fordham calls him. "Cecil had 
no vanity," writes Mrs. Kidd, "and thoroughly appreciated the 
fact that he was not beautiful; when he was about 14 he said at 
dinner one day: 'I think I shall marry X (a very plain cousin); 
between us we might produce the missing link/ Aunt Marie 
was shocked!" 

Many of the games arise from the skill in drawing of both 
Gilbert and his father. A long history of two of the Masters 
drawn by Gilbert shows them in the Salvation Army, as Christy 

2,8 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Minstrels, as editors of a new revolutionary paper, "La Guillo 
tine," as besieged in their office by a mob headed by Lord Salis 
bury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Conservative 
leaders. Getting tired at last of the adventures of these two mild 
scholars, Gilbert starts a series of Shakespeare plays drawn in 
modern dress 

Shyloclc as an aged Hebrew vendor of dilapidated vesture, with 
a tiara of hats, Antonio as an opulent and respectable city-merchant, 
Bassanio as a fashionable swell and Gratiano as his loud and dis 
reputable "pal" with large checks and a billy-cock hat. Portia was 
attired as a barrister in wig and gown and Nerissa as a clerk with a 
green bag and a pen behind his ear. This being much appreciated, 
Your Humble Servant questions what portion of the Bard of Avon 
he shall next burlesque, 

The little group seems certainly at this date to be living in a 
land in which 'tis always afternoon. In one house or another tea- 
time goes on until signs of dinner make their appearance. The 
boys only move from one hospitable dining-room to another, or 
adjourn to their own bedrooms where Gilbert piles book on book 
and reduces even neat shelves to the same chaos that reigns in 
his own room. 

The Christmas holidays to which the "dramatic journal" 
belongs came a few months after the founding of the Junior 
Debating Club, which became so central in Gilbert's life and 
which he treated with a gravity, solemnity even, such as he 
never showed later for any cause, a gravity untouched by 
humour. It was a group of about a dozen boys, started with the 
idea that it should be a Shakespeare Club, but immediately 
changed into a general discussion club. They met every week 
at the home of one or other and after a hearty tea some member 
read a paper which was then debated. 

At the age of twenty, when he had left, .school iwo^years, 
G.K. wrote a solemn history of this institution in which the 
question o? whether it was right or wrong to insist on penny 

School Days 29 

fines for rowdy behaviour is canvassed with passionate feeling! 
One HSoy who was expelled asked to be readmitted, saying, "I 
feel so lonely without it." Gilbert's enthusiasm over this inci 
dent could be no greater had he been a bishop welcoming the 
return of an apostate to the Christian fold. I suppose it was 
partly because of his early solitary life at school, partly because 
of the general trend of his thought, partly that at this later date 
he was under the influence of Walt Whitman and cast back 
upon his earlier years a sort of glow or haze of Whitman ideal 
ism. Anyhow, the Junior Debating Club became to him a symbol 
of the ideal friendship. They were Knights of the Round s X%l?k:, 
They were Jongleurs de Dieu. They were the Human jClub 
through whom and in whom he had made the ^rapd.dfeiPQV,^ 
of Man. They were his yout]^p^$Qjjied/T^ 
Tn the letters of his engagement period, and ^ 

years later, writing his AutolwgrajjKy^ ^t^ 

ture with a certain humorous detachment this group of 

met to eat buns and criticise tjie upiyerse^ 

A year after their first meeting, the energy of Lucian 
shaw produced a magazine called The Debater. At first it was 
turned out at home on a duplicator the efficiency of the pro* 
duction being such that the author of any given paper was abfe 
occasionally to recognise a few words of his own contribution. 
Later it was printed and gives a good record of the meetings and 
discussions. It shows the energy and ardour of the debaters and 
also their serious view of themselves and their efforts. At first 
they are described as Mr. C, Mr. F, etc. Later the full name is 
given. Besides the weekly debates, they started a Library, a 
Chess Club, a Naturalists' Society and a Sketching Club, regu 
lar meetings of which are chronicled. 

"The Chairman [G.K.C.] said a few words," runs a record, 
after some months of existence, ''stating his pride at the success 
of the Club, and his belief in die good effect such a literary insti 
tution might have as a protest against the lower and unworthy 

30 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

phases of school life. His view having been vehemently cor 
roborated, the meeting broke up." 

In one fairly typical month papers were read on "Three Com 
edies of Shakespeare/' "Pope/' and "Herodotus/' and when no 
paper was produced there was a discussion on Capital Punish 
ment. In another, the subjects were 'The Brontes/' "Macaulay 
as an Essayist/' "Frank Buckland" (the naturalist) and "Tenny 
son." A pretty wide range of reading was called for from school 
boys in addition to their ordinary work, even though on one 
occasion the Secretary sternly notes that the reading of the 
paper occupied only three and one-half minutes. But they were 
not daunted by difficulties or afraid of bold attempts. 

Mr. Digby d'Avigdor on one occasion "delivered a paper 
entitled The Nineteenth Century: A Retrospect.' He gave a 
slight resum6 of the principal events, with appropriate tribute to 
the deceased great of this century." 

Mr* Bertram, reading a paper on Milton, "dealt critically with 
his various poems, noting the effective style of X* Allegro/ giv 
ing the story of the writing of 'Comus' and cursorily analysing 
'Paradise Lost/ and 'Paradise Regained/" 

"After discussing the adaptability of Hamlet to the stage, Mr. 
Maurice Solomon" who may have been quite fifteen -"passed 
on to review the chief points in the character of the Prince of 
Denmark, concluding with a slight review of the other charac 
ters which he did not think Shakespeare had given much 

attention to." 

In a discussion on the new humorists, we find the Secretary 
"taking grievous umbrage at certain unwarrantable attacks which 
he considered Mr. Andrew Lang had lately made on these choice 
spirits." This discussion arose from a paper by the Chairman on 
the new school of poetry "in which, in spite of its good points, 
he condemned the absence of the sentiment of the moral, which 
he held to be the really stirring and popular element in litera 

School Days 31 

Evidently some of his friends tended towards a youthful cyni 
cism for in a paper on Barriers Window in Thrums Gilbert apolo 
gises to "such of you as are much bitten with the George Moore 
state of mind." 

The book which describes the rusty emotions and toilsome lives of 
the Thrums weavers will always remain a book that has given me 
something, and the fact that mine is merely the popular view and 
that what I feel in it can be equally felt by the majority of fellow- 
creatures, this fact, such is my hardened and abandoned state, only 
makes me like the book more. I have long found myself in that hope 
less minority that is engaged in protecting the majority of mankind 
from the attacks of all men, . . . 

In this sentiment we recognise the G.K. that is to be, but 
not when we find him seconding Mr. Bentley in the motion 
that "a scientific education is much more useful than a classic/* 

"Mr. M" reading a paper on Herodotus, "gave a minute 
account of the life of the historian, dwelling much upon the 
doubt and controversy surrounding his birth and several inci 
dents of his history"; while "Mr. K read a paper on Newspapers, 
tracing their growth from the Acta Diurna of the later Roman 
Empire to the hordes of papers of the present day." 

Perhaps best of all these efforts was that of Mr, L.D. who 
"after describing the governments of England, France, Russia, 
Germany and the United States, proceeded to give his opinion on 
their various merits, first saying that he personally was a repub 

Of the boys that appear in The Debater, Robert Vern&de was 
killed in the Great War; Laurence Solomon at his death in 1940 
was Senior Tutor of University College, London; his brother 
Maurice who became one of the Directors of the General Elec 
tric Company is now an invalid. I read a year or so ago an inter 
esting Times obituary of Mr. Bertram, who was Director of Civil 
Aviation in the Air Ministry; Mr. Salter became a Principal in 
the Treasury, having practised as a solicitor up to the War; Mr. 

$2 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Fordham, a barrister, was one of the Legal Advisers to the Min 
istry $>f Labour and has now retired. 

' * The two outstanding "debaters" in G.K.'s life were Lucian 
Oldershav^^who became^ his ^brother-in-law and will often re- 
ippear in these pages, and Edmund Clerihew Bentley,. Jus 

united as was the whole group, Lucian 

Dldershaw Oj^cej^lc^^ 


"Yes," he replied, "our jealousy of Bentley was overwhelming/' 

Mr, Bentley became a journalist and was for long on the edi 

torial staff of the Daily Telegraph, biit he is best known for his 

ietective stories especially Trent's Last Case and as the in 

ventor ol a special Form of rhyme, known from his second name 

hswhiQetill at school, 

ind the best were later published in a volume 

Las his favour 

ite. My own is; 

Sir Christopher Wren 

Said "I am going to dine with some men, 

If anybody calls 

Say I'm designing St. Paul's." 

Or possibly: 

The people of Spain think Cervantes 
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes, 
An opinion resented most bitterly 
By the people of Italy. 

BentW^ well as term-time com- 

^aj^^jjidjudiexi th^; ji;e not together a large ; oSffe^ndence 
between the two boys gives some idea of how and wKSrTGflbert 

They^ are^yer^^ 

letters and not worth quoting at full length, but it is interesting 


School Days 33 

to compare both style and content with the later letters. All the 
letters Begin" "Dear Beritley.^The Srst use oFtis Christian name 
only occurs after Both ha3 left school 

Austria House 
Pier Street 

Ventnor, Isle of Wight 
(undated, probably 1890) 

Although you dropt some hints about Paris when you were last 
in our humble abode, I presume that this letter, i addressed to your 
usual habitation, will reach you at some period. Ventnor, where, as 
you will perceive we are, is, I will not say built upon hills, but 
emptied into the cracks and clefts of rocks so that the geography of 
the town is curious and involved. . . . 

. , , My brother is intent upon "The Three Midshipmen" or 'The 
Three Admirals" or the three coal-scuttles or some other distinguished 
trio by that interminable ass Kingston. I looked at it today and won 
dered how I ever could have enjoyed his eternal slave schooners and 
African stations* I would not give a page of "Mansfield Park" or a 
verse of "In Memoriam" for all the endless fighting of blacks and 
boarding of pirates through which the three hypocritical vagabonds 
ever went. I am getting old. How old it will shortly be necessary 
for me to state precisely, for, as you doubtless know there is going 
to be a Census, . * . 

"I have been trying to knock into shape a story, such as we spoke 
about the other day, about the first introduction of Tea, and I should 
be glad of your assistance and suggestions. I think I shall lay the 
scene in Holland where the merits of tea were first largely agitated, 
and fill the scene with the traditional Dutch figures such as I sketch. 
I find in Disraeli's "Curiosities of Literature" which I consulted 
before coming away that a French writer wrote an elaborate treatise 
to prove that tea merchants were always immoral members of society. 
It would be rather curious to apply the theory to the present 
day* . . . 

u, Warwick Gardens, 


I direct this letter to you* ancient patrimonial estate unknowing 
whether it will reach you or where it will reach you if it does; 

34 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

whether you are shooting polar bears on the ice-fields of Spitzbergen 
or cooking missionaries among the cannibals of the South Pacific. 
But wherever you are I find some considerable relief in turning from 
the lofty correspondence of the secretary (with no disparagement of 
my much-esteemed friend, Oldershaw) to another friend (ifelow- 
mecallimso as Mr, Verdant Greene said) who can discourse on some 
other subjects besides the Society, and who will not devote the 
whole of his correspondence to the questions of that excellent and 
valuable body. The Society is a very good thing in its way (being 
the President I naturally think so) but like other good things, you 
may have too much of it, and I have had. . * , 

As I said before, I don't know where you are disporting yourself, 
beyond some hurried remark about Paris which you dropped in our 
hurried interview in one of the "brilliant flashes of silence" between 
those imbecile screams and yells and stamping, which even the 
natural enthusiasm at the prospect of being "broken up" cannot 

6, The Quadrant, 

North Berwick, Haddington, 



You will probably guess that as far as personal taste and instincts 
are concerned, I share all your antipathy to the noisy Plebian excur 
sionist. A visit to Ramsgate during the season and the vision of the 
crowded, howling sands has left in me feelings which all my Radi 
calism cannot allay. At the same time I think that the lower orders 
are seen unfavorably when enjoying themselves. In labour and 
trouble they are more dignified and less noisy. Your suggestion as to 
a series of soliloquies is very flattering and has taken hold of me to 
the extent of writing a similar ballad on Simon de Montfort The 
order in which they come is rather incongruous, particularly -if I 
include the list I have in mind for the future thus Danton, William 
III, Simon de Montfort, Rousseau, David and Russell. ... I rejoice 
to say that this is a sequestered spot into which Hi tiddly hi ti, etc. 
and all the ills in its train have not penetrated. 

In these last two letters there are sentences of a kind not to 
be found anywhere else in Chesterton. The disparagement of 

School Days 35 

Lucian Oldershaw's excessive enthusiasm for the Junior Debat 
ing Club, the solemn reprobation of the "imbecile screams and 
yells and stamping" of the last day at school before the summer 
holidays, the antipathy expressed for the rowdy enjoyments of 
the lower orders these things are not in the least like either 
the Chesterton that was to be or the Chesterton that then was. 
But they are very much like Bentley. He was two years younger 
than Chesterton, but far older than his years and seemed indeed 
to the other boys (and perhaps to himself) like an elderly gentle 
man smiling a remote amused smile at the enthusiasms of the 
young. I get the strongest feeling that at this stage Chesterton 
not only admired him as he was to do all his lifebut wanted 
to be like him, to say the kind of thing he thought Bentley 
would say. This phase did not last, as we shall see; it had gone 
by the time Chesterton was at the Slade School. 

6, The Quadrant, 
North Berwick 
Haddington, Scotland. 

(undated, probably 1891.) 

We have been here three days and my brother loudly murmurs 
that we have not yet seen any of ''the sights." For my part I abomi 
nate sights, and all people who want to look at them. A great deal 
more instruction, to say nothing of pleasure is to be got out of the 
nearest haystack or hedgerow taken quietly, than in trotting over 
two or three counties to see "the view" or "the site" or the extraor 
dinary cliff or the unusual tower or the unreasonable hill or any 
other monstrosity deforming the face of Nature. Anybody can make 
sights but nobody has yet succeeded in making scenery. (Excuse the 
unaccountable pencil drawing in the middle which was drawn 
unconsciously on the back of the unfinished letter.) . . . 

9, South Terrace, 
Littlehampton, Sussex. 


I agree with you in your admiration for Paradise Lost, but 
consider it on the whole too light and childish a book for persons 

36 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

of our age. It is all very well, as small children to read pretty stories 
about Satan and Belial, when we have only just mastered our 
"Oedipus" and our Herbert Spencer, but when we grow older we 
get to like Captain Marryat and Mr. Kingston and when we are men 
we know that Cinderella is much better than any of those babyish 
books. As regards one question which you asked, I may remark that 
the children o Israel [presumably the Solomons] have not gone unto 
Horeb, neither unto Sittim, but unto the land that is called Shrop 
shire they went, and abode therein. And they came unto a city, even 
unto the city that is called Shrewsbury, and there they builded 
themselves an home, where they might abide. And their home was 
in the land that was called Castle Street and their home was the 
2, 5th tabernacle in that land. And they abode with certain of their 
own kin until their season be over and gone. And lo! they spake 
unto me by letter, saying, "Heard ye aught of him that is called 
Bentley? Is he in the house of his fathers or has he come unto a 
strange land?" Here endeth the 2nd Lesson. 

Hotel de Lille & d'Albion, 

223, Rue St. Honor6, 


(undated, probably 1892.) 

, . They showed us over the treasures of the Cathedral, among 
which, as was explained by the guide, who spoke a little English, 
was a cross given by Louis XIV to "Meess" Lavalli&re, I thought 
that concession to the British system of tides was indeed touching. 
I also thought, when reflecting what the present was, and where it 
was and then to whom it was given, that this showed pretty well 
what tie religion of the Bourbon regime was and why it has become 
impossible since the Revolution. 

Grand Hotel du Chemin de Per, 
Arromanches (Calvados) 


. . , Art is universal. This remark is not so irrelevant and Horace 
Greeley-like as it may appear. I have just had a demonstration of its 
truth on the coach coming down here. Two very nice little French 
boys of cropped hair and restless movements were just in front of 
us and my pater having discovered that the book they had with them 

School Days 37 

was a prize at a Paris school, some slight conversation arose. Not 
thinking my French altogether equal to a prolonged interview, I 
took out a scrap of paper and began, with a fine carelessness to draw 
a picture of Napoleon I, hat, chin, attitude, all complete. This, of 
course, was gazed at rapturously by these two young inheritors of 
France's glory and it ended in my drawing them unlimited goblins 
to keep for the remainder of the interview, 

In May 1891, the Chairman of the J.D.C. attained the ma 
turity of seventeen. 

The Secretary then rose and in a speech in which he extolled the 
merits of the Chairman as a chairman, and mentioned the benefit 
which the Junior Debating Club received on the day of which this 
was the anniversary, viz., the natal day of Mr. Chesterton, proposed 
that a vote wishing him many happy returns of the day and a long 
continuance in the Chair of the Club should be passed. This was 
carried with acclamations. The Chairman replied after restoring 
order. . , . 

Naturally this question of order among a crowd of boys 
loomed large. At the beginning a number of rules were passed 
giving great powers to the Chairman, "which that gentleman/' 
he says of himself, "lenient by temperament and republican by 
principles, certainly would never have put in force. ... It was 
seldom enough," he continues: 

that a boy of fifteen * f ound himself in the position of the Chair 
man, an attitude of command and responsibility over a body of his 
friends and equals, and it was not to be expected that they would 
easily take to the state o things. Nor was the Chairman himself, 
like the Secretary, protected and armed by any personal aptitude for 
practical proceedings. But solely by the certain degree of respect 
entertained for his character and acquirements. This respect, sincere 
and even excessive as it frequently was, contrasted somewhat humor 
ously with the common inattentior to questions of order, nor could 
anything be more noisy than the loyalty of Foidham and Langdon 
Davies, with the exception of their interruptions. It may then fairly 

* He was, in fact, sixteen wHen the J.D.C. began. 

38 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

be said that the troubles and discussions of the first months of the 
Club's existence centred practically round the question of order, the 
first of the great difficulties of this most difficult enterprise. How boys 
who could scarcely be got to behave quietly under the strictest school 
masters could ever be brought to obey the rebuke of their equal and 
schoolfellow; how a heterogeneous pack of average schoolboys could 
organise themselves into a self-governing republic, these were prob 
lems of real and stupendous difficulty. The fines of a penny and of 
twopence, which were instituted at the first meeting, were found 
hopelessly incompetent to cope with the bursts of oblivious hilarity. 
Fordham in particular, whose constant breaches of order threatened 
to exhaust even the extensive treasury of that spoilt and opulent 
young gentleman, soon left calculation far behind, nor can the story 
be better or more brightly told than by himself. "Mr. F.," he wrote, 
"at one time, after considerable calculation found that he was in 
debt to the extent of some 10 or 11 shillings; but as he felt that by 
refusing to pay the sum he would be striking a blow for the liberty 
of the subject, he manfully held out against what he considered an 
unjust punishment for such diminutive frivolities as he had indulged 
in." ... At times incidents of a disturbing and playful nature have 
roused the wrath of the Chairman and Secretary to a pitch awful to 
behold. At one time Mr. H. (a member who soon resigned) spent a 
considerable part of a meeting under the table, till he found himself 
used as a public footstool and a doormat combined. At another as 
Mr. Bentley was departing from the scene of chaos a penny bun of 
the sticky order caressingly stung his honoured cheek, sped upon 
its errand of mercy by the unerring aim of Mr. F.* 

Mr. Fordham well remembers how G.K. one day took him 
aside at the Oldershaws* house and told him that he really must 
be less exhuberant. This historic occasion was always alluded 
to later as "the day on which the Chairman spoke seriously to 
Mr. F." 

After various resignations order was restored, and a little later 
two of the chief recalcitrants asked to be received back into the 
Club. "I feel so lonely without it," one of them had remarked; 

* MS. History of the J.D.C. 

School Days 39 

and G,K. comments, "This has always appeared to the present 
writer one of the most important speeches in the history of the 
Club. . . . The Junior Debating Club had come through its 
moments of difficulty and was a fact and an establishment." 

Nor was the circulation of The Debater long confined to 
members of the Club and their own circle of friends and rela 
tives. Some of the boys had no doubt a regular allowance, but 
probably a small one. Gilbert himself says in his diary that he 
had no income "except errant sixpences/' And printers' bills 
had to be paid. Moreover in the first number the editor Lucian 
Oldershaw confessed frankly that one reason for the paper's 
existence was "that the Society may not degenerate into the 
position of a mutual admiration Society by totally lacking the 
admiration of outsiders." The staff were able immediately to 
note, "Any apprehensions we may have felt on the morning of 
the publication of The Debater were speedily dispelled, when 
by nightfall we had disposed of all our copies." Of a later issue 
the energetic editor sold sixty-five copies in the course of the 
summer holidays. Masters, too, began to read it and at last a 
copy was laid on the table of the High Master, Mr* Walker. 
Cecil Chesterton describes the High Master as a gigantic man 
with a booming voice. Some Paulines believed he had given 
Gilbert the first inspiration for the personality of "Sunday" in 
The Man Who Was Thursday. Another contemporary says that 
he was reputed to take no interest in anything except examina 
tion successes, and that the boys were amazed at the effect on 
him of reading The Debater. Reading in the light of his future, 
one sees qualities in Gilbert's work not to be found in that of 
the other contributors, but it is worth noting that the J.D.C. 
members were in fact a quite unusually able group. Almost every 
one of them took brilliant scholarships to Oxford or Cambridge; 
the High Master had never boasted of so many scholarships 
from one set of boys. And in reading The Debater '(an enjoy- 


ment I wish others could share) one has to bear in mind the 
relative ages of the contributors. It is, I think, striking that all 
these boys should have recognised Gilbert's quality and accepted 
his leadership, for they were all a year or so younger than he 
was and yet were in the same form. They knew that this was 
only because G,K. would not bother to do his school work; still, 
I think that at that age they showed insight by knowing it. 

Gilbert s work is to be found in every number of The Debater 
usually verse as well as prose. Both Fordham and^^ldershaw 
remember most vividly the effect oFreading a fanciful essay on 
Dragons in the first number. 'The Dragon" it began, "is the 
most cosmopolitan of impossibilities." And the boys, rolling the 

- ;H, .^WWKK.,, .Y" "l^*"-" *..*.-- . ^T'L * " 

words on their tongues, murmured to one another* 1ms is 

Except for a very occasional flash the one element not yet 
visible in these Debater essays is humour.. This is curiouSj be 
cause Tome of his most brilliant fooling Belongs Jo the same 
period. In, a collection made after his death, The Coloured 
Lands, is an illustrated jeu d'esprit of 1891 Half Hours in Hades: 
"an elementary handbook of demonology" which is as amusing a 
thing as he ever wrote. The drawings he made for it show speci 
mens of the evolution of various types of devil into various 
types of humans: the devils themselves are carefully classified 
the common or garden serpent (Tentator Hortensis), the red 
devil (Diabolus Mephistopheles) the blue devil (Caeruleus 
Lugubrius) etc. Mr. J. Milton's "specimen" is discussed and 
various methods of pursuing observations in supernatural his 
tory which "possesses an interest which will remain after health, 
youth and even life have departed." 

There is nothing of this kind in The Debater. Besides the his 
torical soliloquies mentioned in the letter to Bentley, there are 
poems in which he is beginning to feel after his religious philos 
ophy. One of these in a very early number shows considerable 
power for a bov not vet seventeen*. 

School Days 41 


Not that the widespread wings of wrong brood o'er a moaning earth, 
Not from the clinging curse of gold, the random lot of birth; 
Not from the misery of the weak, the madness of the strong, 
Goes upward from our lips the cry, "How long, oh Lord, how long?" 
Not only from the huts of toil, the dens of sin and shame, 
From lordly halls and peaceful homes the cry goes up the same; 
Deep in the heart of every man, where'er his life be spent, 
There is a noble weariness, a holy discontent. 
Where'er to mortal eyes has come, in silence dark and lone, 
Some glimmer of the f ar-off light the world has never known, 
Some ghostly echoes from a dream of earth's triumphal song, 
Then as the vision fades we cry, "How long, oh Lord, how long?" 
Long ages, from the dawn of time, men's toiling march has wound 
Towards the world they ever sought, the world they never found; 
Still far before their toiling path the glimmering promise lay, 
Still hovered round the struggling race, a dream by night and day. 
Mid darkening care and clinging sin they sought their unknown 


Yet ne'er the perfect glory came Lord, will it ever come? 
The weeding of earth's garden broad from all its growths of wrong 
When all man's soul shall be a prayer, and all his life a song. 
Aye, though through many a starless night we guard the flaming oil 
Though we have watched a weary watch, and toiled a weary toil, 
Though in the midnight wilderness, we wander still forlorn, 
Yet bear we in our hearts the proof that God shall send the dawn. 
Deep in the tablets of our hearts he writes that yearning still, 
The longing that His hand hath wrought shall not his hand fulfil? 
Though death shall close upon us all before that hour we see, 
vThe goal of ages yet is there the good time yet to be: 
Therefore, tonight, from varied lips, in every house and home, 
Goes UD to God the common prayer, "Father, Thy Kingdom come. 
f* U ' A W/ * 

GilbeiJs^^ must have been little 

1 *" "*"**. , L ^_._._^ J . L jg*i_gLt T JL ntfi>.... JLiomiLi mm jffiHTiAl iitf """ "Tif m-f^K Afft I..I.TX1 TT1 

less surpnsjj]^***^^^ 

slumbering at a desk. His historical romance "The White 

Cockade" is ImnSi^^ 

* The Debater, VoL ' 

42- Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Milton, Pope, Gray, Cowper, Burns, Wordsworth, "Humour in 
Fiction," "Boys' Literature," Sir Walter Scott, Browning, the 
English Dramatists, showed a range and a quality of literary crit 
icism alike surprising. Perhaps most surprising, however, is the 
fact that all this does not seem to have made clear to either 
masters or parents the true nature of Gilbert's vocation. He 
suffered at this date from having too many talents. For he still 
went on drawing and his drawings seemed to many the most 
reftiarkable thing about him, and were certainly the thing lie 
most enjoyed doing. 

Even now his school work had not brought him into the high 
est form called not the Sixth, as in most schools, but the 
Eighth: the highest form he ever reached was 6B. But in the 
Summer Term ^of 1892 he entered a competition for a prize 
poem, arid won it. The subject chosen was St. Francis Xavier. 
I give the poem in Appendix A. It is not as notable as some 
other of his work at that time: what is interesting is that in it 
this schoolboy expresses with some power a view he was later 
to explode yet more powerfully. He might have claimed for him 
self what he said of earlier writers it is not true that they did 
not see our modern difficulties: they saw through them. Never 
before jiad this contest been won by any but an^JEighth Form 
boy, %&d almost immediately afterwards Gilbert was amazed to 
find a short notice posted on tKe Board: "G. K? Chesterton to 
rank with the Eigtith. F. W. Walker, Higli Master." 

The High Master at any rate had travelled far from the at 
mosphere of the form reports when Mrs. Chesterton visited him 
in 1894 to a$ k his advice about her son's future. For he said, 
"Six foot of genius. Cherish him, Mrs. Chesterton, cherish him." 

Art Schools ana University College 

\ Y /HEN ALL GILBERT'S friends were at Oxford or Cam- 
W bridge, he used to say how glad he was that his own 
choice had been a different one. He never sighed for Oxford, 
He never regretted his rather curious experiences at an Art 
Schooltwo Art Schools really, although he only talks of one, 
in the Autobiogra'p'hy, for he was for a short time at a School 
of Art in St. John's Wood jCCalderon's, Lawrence Solomon 
thought),-^|w^ffhe passed to the Slade School. He wasjhere^ 
from 1822 to 1895 and durj^ 
tures on English Litgatjire^at Uj^exsily^C^lege. 

The charter on /mte^xperiejxQes. .Q . the next Jwo^ years is 
called in ^^^^^? * to ^ e a Lunatic," and there. 

is no doubt that these years werej^njgial^ 
in Gilbert's JifeJ^^ Sow 

eighteen and a half) he had developed very slowly, but nor 
mally. Surrounded by pteaosaiit^ 
he had never really Wco^ 

him suddenly probably to a degree exaggerated by his strong 
imagination and distorted by the fact that he was undergoing 
physical changes usually belonging to an earlier age. 

yet broken. His -motherjoQ^ Jijm to 

and was toM jhgjJiisJa^^ m d most 

the doctor hajj^y^w 

on tJieroobabiliti^. Abpjve^^ 

him anv sort of shock. Physically, mentally, spiritually he was 


44 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

on a very large scale and probably for that reason of a slow rate 
of development. The most highly differentiated organisms are 
the slowest to mature, and without question Gilbert did mature 
very late. He was now passing through the stage described by 
Keats: "The imagination of a boy is healthy and the mature 
imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life 
between" a period unhealthy or at least ill-focussed. 

Intellectually jGilbert suffered at this time from an extreme 
scepticism. As he expressed it he "felt as if everything mighty be 
a dream'* as If he tad "projected the universe from within/' 
The agnostic doubts the existence of God. Gilbert at moments 
doubted the existence of the agnostic. 

Morally his temptations seem to have been in some strange 
psycKcT region rather than merely physical. The whole peribcT Is 
best summarised in a passage from the Autobiography, for look 
ing back after forty years Gilbert still saw it as deeply and 
darkly significant: as both a mental and moral extreme of 

There is something truly menacing in the thought of how quickly 
I could imagine the maddest, when I had never committed the mild 
est crime . . . there was a time when I had reached that condition 
of moral anarchy within, in which a man says, in the words of Wilde, 
that "Atys with the blood-stained knife were better than the thing 
I am." I have never indeed felt the faintest temptation to the par 
ticular madness of Wilde, but I could at this time imagine the worst 
and wildest disproportions and distortions of more normal passion; 
the point is that the whole mood was overpowered and oppressed 
with a sort of congestion of imagination. As Bunyan, in his morbid 
period, described himself as prompted to utter blasphemies, I had an 
overpowering impulse to record or draw horrible ideas and images; 
plunging deeper and deeper as in a blind spiritual suicide/ 


full of jd*ee IKO:^^ 
ton going 


* Pp. 88-9. 

Art Schools and University College 45 

H,e dabbled Joo ^J^jspiri^Hamruntil he realised that he had 
reached the verge of forbidden and dangerous ground: 

I would not altogether rule out the suggestion of some that we 
were playing with fire; or even with hell-fire. In the words that were 
written for us there was nothing ostensibly degrading, but any 
amount that was deceiving, I saw quite enough of the thing to be 
able to testify, with complete certainty, that something happens 
which is not in the ordinary sense natural, or produced by the nor 
mal and conscious human will. Whether it is produced by some 
subconscious but still human force, or by some powers, good, bad, or 
indifferent, which are external to humanity, I would not myself 
attempt to decide. The only thing I will say with complete confi 
dence, about that mystic and invisible power, is that it tells lies. The 
lies may be larks or they may be lures to the imperilled soul or they 
may be a thousand other things; but whatever they are, they are 
not truths about the other world; or for that matter about this world.* 

He told Father O'Connor some years later f that "he had used 
the planchette freely at one time, but had to give it up on ac 
count of headaches ensuing . . . 'after the headaches came a 
horrid feeling as if one were trying to get over a bad spree* with 
what I can best describe as a bad smell in the mind/ " 

Idling at his work he fell in with other idlers and has left a 
vivid description in a Daily News article called, "The Diabolist," 
of one of his fellow students. 

... It was strange, perhaps, that I liked his dirty, drunken society; 
it was stranger still, perhaps, that he liked my society. For hours of 
the day he would talk with me about Milton or Gothic architecture; 
for hours of the night he would go where I have no wish to follow 
him, even in speculation. He vyas a man with a long, ironical face, 
and close red hair; he was by class a gentleman, and could walk like 
one, but preferred, for some reason, to walk like a groom carrying 
two pails. He looked like a sort of super-jockey; as if some archangel 
had gone on the Turf. And I shall never forget the half-hour in 
which he and I argued about real things for the first and last time. 

* Autobiography, p. 77. 

t Father Brown on Chesterton, p. 74. 

46 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

. , . He had a horrible fairness of the intellect that made me despair 
of his soul. A common, harmless atheist would have denied that 
religion produced humility or humility a simple joy; hut he admitted 
both. He only said, "But shall I not find in evil a life of its own? 
Granted that for every woman I ruin one of those red sparks will 
go out; will not the expanding pleasure of ruin , . ." 

"Do you see that fire?" I asked. "If we had a real fighting democ 
racy, some one would burn you in it; like the devil-worshipper that 
you are." 

"Perhaps," he said, in his tired, fair way, "Only what you call 
evil I call good." 

He went down the great steps alone, and I felt as if I wanted the 
steps swept and cleaned. I followed later, and as I went to find my 
hat in the low, dark passage where it hung, I suddenly heard his 
voice again, but the words were inaudible. I stopped, startled; but 
then I heard the voice of one of the vilest of his associates saying, 
"Nobody can possibly know." And then I heard those two or three 
words which I remember in every syllable and cannot forget, I 
heard the Diabolist say, "I tell you I have done everything else. If 
I do that I shan't know the difference between right and wrong." 
I rushed out without daring to pause; and as I passed the fire I did 
not know whether it was hell or the furious love of God. 

I have since heard that he died; it may be said, I think, that he 
committed suicide; though he did it with tools of pleasure, not 
with tools of pain. God help him, I know the road he went; but I 
have never known or even dared to think what was that place at 
which he stopped and refrained,* 

Revulsion from the atmosphere of evil took Gilbert to no new 
thing but to a strengthening of old ties and a mystic renewal of 
them. The J.D.C. was idealised into a mystical city of friends: 


I know a friend, very strong and good. He is the best friend in the 

I know another friend, subtle and sensitive. He is certainly the 

best friend on earth. 

* Quoted in G. K. Chesterton: A Criticism. Alston Rivers Ltd. 1908, pp. 


Art Schools and University College 47 

I know another friend: very quiet and shrewd, there is no friend 

so good as he. 
I know another friend, who is enigmatical and reluctant, he is the 

best of all. 
I know yet another: who is polished and eager, he is far better than 

the rest. 
I know another, who is young and very quick, he is the most beloved 

of all friends, 
I know a lot more and they are all like that. 

JA ,n Au^en. 

*,_x.,-r,. ^- 7 -^ **-&* * r & ' '*'* * / 

What are little boys made of? 

Bentley is made of hard wood with a knot in it, a complete set of 

Browning and a strong spring; 

Oldershaw of a box of Lucifer matches and a stylographic pen; 
Lawrence of a barrister's wig: files of Punch and salt, 
Maurice of watch-wheels, three riders and a clean collar. 
Vern&de is made of moonlight and tobacco, 
Bertram is mostly a handsome black walking-stick. 
Waldo is a nice cabbage, with a vanishing odour of cigarettes, 
falter is made of sand and fire and an university extension ticket, 
fiuj the strongest element in all can not be expressed; I think it is 

a sort of star.* 

There are fragments of a Morality Play entitled "The Junior 
Debating Club/' of a modern novel in which everyone of the 
Debaters makes his appearance, of a mediaeval story called "The 
Legend of Sir Edmund of the Brotherhood of the Jongleurs de 
Dieu." Notes, fragments, letters, all show an intense individual 
interest that covered the life of each of his friends. If one of 
them is worried, he worries too; if one rejoices, he rejoices 
exceedingly. They write to him about their ideas and views, their 
relations with one another, their reactions in the world of Oxford 
life, their love affairs. "I am in need of some literary tonic or 
blood-letting," says Vern&de, * which you alone can supply." 

* From The Notebook. 

48 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

"I only hope/' writes Bertram, "you may be as much use in 
the world in future as you have been in the past to your friends." 

"Most of the absent Club/' writes Saltcr separated from the 
others, "lie together in my pocket at this moment." And Gilbert 
writes in The Notebook: 


Tea is made; the red fogs shut round the house but the gas burns. 

I wish I had at this moment round the table 

A company of fine people. 

Two of them are at Oxford and one in Scotland and two at other 

But I wish they would all walk in now, for the tea is made. 

Gilbert was devoted to them all But as we have seen, Bent- 
ley's was the supreme friendship of his youth. It was a friend 
ship in foolery as we are told by the dedication of Greybeards 
at Play: 

He was through boyhood's storm and shower 
My best my nearest friend, 
We wore one hat, smoked one cigar 
One standing at each end. 

It was a deeply serious friendship as we are told in the dedi 
cation of The Man Who Was Thursday. With Bentley alone 
he shared the 

Doubts that drove us through the night as we two talked amain, 
And day had broken on the streets ere it broke upon the brain. 


wrote and illustrated a fairy 

stoiyaEout a boyish romance of Lucian Oldershaw's while two 
unfinished novels have Bentley for hero. He is, too, in the 
mediaeval story, Sir Edmund of the Brotherhood of the Jongleurs 
de Dieu. Gilbert sings, like all young poets, of first love but it 
is Bentley's not his own: he jyas as much excited about a^girl 

Art Schools ana university 

Bentley had fallen in love with as if he had fallen in love with 
her himself. And where a London street has a special significance 
one discovers it is because of a memory of Bentley's. To Bentley 
then, with whom all was shared, Gilbert wrote, when through 
friendship and the goodness of things he had come out again 
into the daylight. The second thought that had saved him had 
largely grown out of the first. The J.D.C. meant friendship. 
Friendship meant the highest of all good things and all good 
things called for gratitude. As he gave thanks he drew near to 

Dunedin Lodge 
Forth Street 
North Berwick. 

(undated, but probably Long Vac., 1894.) 

Your letter was most welcome: in which, however, it does not 
differ widely from most of your letters. I read somewhere in some 
fatuous Complete Letter-writer or something, that it is correct to 
imitate the order of subjects, etc. observed by your correspondent. 
In obedience to this rule of breeding I will hurriedly remark that my 
holiday has been nice enough in itself; we walk about; lie on the 
sand; go and swim in the sea when it generally rains; and the com 
bination gets in our mouths and we say the name of the Professor 
in the 'Water Babies." Inwardly speaking, I have had a funny time. 
A meaningless fit of depression, taking the form of certain absurd 
psychological worries came upon me, and instead of dismissing it 
and talking to people, I had it out and went very far into the 
abysses, indeed. The result was that I found that things when exam 
ined, necessarily spelt such a mystically satisfactory state of things, 
that without getting back to earth, I saw lots that made me certain 
it is all right. The vision is fading into common day now, and I am 
alad. The frame of mind was the reverse of gloomy, but it would 
not do for long. It is embarrassing, talking with God face to face, 
as a man speaketh to his friend. 

And in another letter: 

A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, "How can 
you who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me 


50 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

to reduce you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter/' 
Moral. You should not look a gift universe in the mouth. 

Another powerful influence in the direction of mental health 
was the discovery of Walt Whitman's poetry. "I shall never 
forget," Lucian Oldershaw writes, "reading to him from the 
Canterbury Walt Whitman in my bedroom at West Kensing 
ton, The stance lasted from two to three hours, and we were 
intoxicated with the excitement of the discovery." 

For some time now we shall find Gilbert dismissing belief in 
any positive existence of evil and treating the universe on the 
Whitman principle of jubilant and universal acceptance. He 
writes, too, in the Whitman style. By far the most important of 
his notebooks is one which, by amazing good fortune, can be 
dated, beginning in 1894 and continuing for several years. In 
its attitude to man it is Whitmanesque to a high degree, yet it is 
also most characteristically Chestertonian. Whitman is content 
with a shouting, roaring optimism about life and humanity, 
Chesterton had to find for it a philosophical basis. Heartily as 
he disliked the literary pessimism of the hour, he was not con 
tent simply to exchange one mood for another. For whether he 
was conscious of it at the time or not, he did later see Walt 
Whitman's outlook as a mood and not a philosophy. It was a 
mood, however, that Chesterton himself never really lost, solely 
because he did discover the philosophy needed to sustain it. 
And thereby, even in this early Notebook, he goes far beyond 
Whitman. Even so early he knew that a philosophy of man 
could not be a philosophy of man only. He already feels a pres 
ence in the universe: 

It is evening 

And into the room enters again a large indiscernable presence. 

Is it a man or a woman? 

Is it one long dead or yet to come? 

That sits with me in the evening. 

Art Schools and Unw^ti^College 51 

This again might have been only a mood had he not found 
the philosophy to sustain it too. It is remarkable how much of 
this philosophy he had arrived at in The Notebook, before he 
had come to know Catholics. Indeed The Notebook seems to me 
so important that it needs a chapter to itself with abundant 

Meanwhile, ^hat was Gilbert doing about his work at Univer 
sity College? (^Professor Fred Brown told Lawrence Solomon 
that when he was at the Slade School he always seemed to be 
writing and while listening to lectures he was always drawing. 
It is probably true that, as Cecil Chesterton says, he shrank from 
the technical toils of the artist as he never did later from those 
of authorship; and none of the professors regarded him as a seri 
ous art student. They pointed later to his illustrations of Biog 
raphy for Beginners as proof that he never learnt to draw. Yet 
how many of the men who did learn seriously could have drawn 
those sketches, full of crazy energy and vitality? I know nothing 
about drawing, but anyone may know how brilliant are the illus 
trations to Greybeards at Play or Biography for Beginners, and 
later to Mr. Belloc's novels. And anyone can see the power of 
line with which he drew in his notebooks unfinished suggestions 
of humanity or divinity. Anyone, too, can recognise a portrait of 
a man, and faces full of character continue to adorn G.K/s 
exercise books. Of living models he affected chiefly Gladstone, 
Balfour, and Joe Chamberlain. In hours of thought he made 
drawings of Our Lord with a crown of thorns or nailed to a cross 
these suddenly appear in any of his books between fantastic 
drawings or lecture notes. As the mind wandered and lingered 
the fingers followed it, and as Gilbert listened to lectures, he 
would even draw on the top of his own notes. He had always 
had facility and that facility increased, so that in later years he 
often completed in a couple of hours the illustrations to a novel 
of Belloc's. Nor were these drawings merely illustrations of an 

52 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

already completed text, for Mr. Belloc has told me that the char 
acters were often half suggested to him by his friend's drawings. 
On one, at any -rate, of his vacations, Gilbert went to Italy, 
and two letters to Bentley show much of the way his thoughts 
were going: 

Hotel New York 


(undated, probably 1894.) 

I turn to write my second letter to you and my first to Grey 
[Maurice Solomon], just after having a very interesting conversa 
tion with an elderly American like Colonel Newcome, though much 
better informed, with whom I compared notes on Botticelli, Ruskin, 
Carlyle, Emerson and the world in general. I asked him what he 
thought of Whitman. He answered frankly that in America they 
were "hardly up to him." "We have one town, Boston," he said 
precisely, "that has got up to Browning." He then added that there 
was one thing everyone in America remembered: Whitman himself. 
The old gentleman quite kindled on this topic, "Whitman was a real 
Man. A man who was so pure and strong that we could not imagine 
him doing an unmanly thing anywhere." It was odd words to hear 
at a table d'hdte, from your next door neighbour: it made me quite 
excited over my salad. 

You see that this humanitarianism in which we are entangled 
asserts itself where, by all guidebook laws, it should not. When I 
take up my pen to write to you, I am thinking more of a white- 
moustached old Yankee at an hotel than about the things I have 
seen within the same 2,4 hours: the frescoes of Santa Croce, the 
illyminatioris of St. Marco; the white marbles of the tower of Giotto; 
the very Madonnas of Raphael, the very David of Michael Angelo. 
Throughout this tour, in pursuance of our theory of travelling, we 
have avoided the guide: he is the death-knell of individual liberty. 
Once only we broke through our rule and that was in favour of an 
extremely intelligent, nay impulsive young Italian in Santa Maria 
Novella, a church where we saw some of the most interesting pieces 
of mediaeval painting I have ever seen, interesting not so much 
from an artistic as from a moral and historical point of view. Particu 
larly noticeable toas the great fresco expressive of the grandest medi- 

Art Schools and University College 53 

aeval conception of the Communion of Saints, a figure of Christ 
surmounting a crowd of all ages and stations, among whom were 
not only Dante, Petrarca, Giotto, etc., etc., but Plato, Cicero, and 
best of all, Arius. I said to the guide, in a tone of expostulation, 
"Heretico!" (a word of impromptu manufacture). Whereupon he 
nodded, smiled and was positively radiant with the latitudinarianism 
of the old Italian painter. It was interesting for it was a fresh proof 
that even the early Church united had a period of thought and 
tolerance before the dark ages closed around it. There is one thing 
that I must tell you more of when we meet, the tower of Giotto. 
It was built in a square of Florence, near the Cathedral, by a self- 
made young painter and architect who had kept sheep as a boy on 
the Tuscan hills. It is still called "The Shepherd's Tower." 

What I want to tell you about is the series of bas-reliefs, which 
Giotto traced on it, representing the creation and progress of man, 
his discovery of navigation, astronomy, law, music and so on. It is 
religious in the grandest sense, but there is not a shred of doctrine 
(even the Fall is omitted) about this history in stone. If Walt 
Whitman had been an architect, he would have built such a 
tower, with such a story on it. As I want to go out and have a good 
look at it before we start for Venice tomorrow, I must cut this short. 
I hope you are enjoying yourself as rnuch as I am, and thinking 
about me half as much as I am about you. 

Your very sincere friend, 


No one would have enjoyed more than Gilbert rereading this 
letter in after years and noting the suggestion that the fifteenth 
century belonged to the early church and preceded the Dark 
Ages. And I think, too, that even in Giotto's Tower, he might 
later have discovered some roots of doctrine. 

Grand Hotel De Milan 


I write you a third letter before coming back, while Venice and 
Verona are fresh in my mind. Of the former I can really only dis 
course viva voce. Imagine a city, whose very slums are full of palaces, 
whose every other house wall has a battered fresco, or a gothic bas- 

54 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

relief; imagine a sky fretted with every kind of pinnacle from the 
great dome of the Salute to the gothic spires of the Ducal Palace and 
the downright arabesque orientalism of the minarets of St. Mark's; 
and then imagine the whole flooded with a sea that seems only 
intended to reflect sunsets, and you still have no idea of the place I 
stopped in for more than 48 hours. Thence we went to Verona, 
where Romeo and Juliet languished and Dante wrote most of "Hell/ 7 
The principal products (t) tombs: particularly those of the Scala, a 
very good old family with an excellent taste in fratricide. Their three 
tombs (one to each man I mean: one man, one grave) are really 
glorious examples of three stages of Gothic: of which more when we 
meet, (2) Balconies: with young ladies hanging over them; really 
quite a preponderating feature. Whether this was done in obedience 
to local associations and in expectation of a Romeo, I can't say. I can 
only remark that if such was the object, the supply of Juliets seemed 
very much in excess of the demand. (3) Roman remains: on which, 
however, I did not pronounce a soliloquy beginning, "Wonderful 
people , . " which is the correct thing to do. Just as I get to this I 
receive your letter and resolve to begin another sheet of paper. I did 
read Rosebery's speech and was more than interested; I was stirred. 
The old order (of parliamentary forms, peerages, Whiggism and 
right honourable friends) has changed, yielding place to the new 
(of industrialism, county council sanitation, education and the King 
dom of Heaven at hand) and, whatever the Archbishop of Canter 
bury may say, God fulfils himself in many ways, even by local gov 
ernment. . . . 

Several things in your letter require notice. First the accusation 
levelled against me of being prejudiced against Professor Huxley, I 
repel with indignation and scorn. You are not prejudiced against 
cheese because you like oranges; and though the Professor is not 
Isaiah or St. Francis or Whitman or Richard le Gallienne (to name 
some of those whom I happen to affect) I should be the last person 
in the world to say a word against an earnest, able, kind-hearted and 
most refreshingly rational man: by far the best man of his type I 
know. As to what you say on education generally, I am entirely with 
you, but it will take a good interview to say how much. As for the 
little Solomons, I am prepared to [be] fond of all of them, as I am 
of all children, even the grubby little mendicants that run these 
Italian streets. I am glad you and Grey have pottered. Potter again. 

Art Schools and University College 55 

I have had such a nice letter from Lawrence. It makes me think it is 
all going "to be the fair beginning of a time." 

Had the months of art study only developed in Gilbert Ches 
terton his power of drawing, they might still have been worth 
while. But they gave him, too, a time to dream and to thhik 
which working for a University degree would never have al 
lowed. His views and his mind were developing fast, and he 
was also developing a power to which we owe some of his besl 
work depth of vision. 

Most art criticism is the work of those who never could have 
been artistswhich is possibly why it tends to be so critical. 
Gilbert, who could perhaps have been an artist, preferred to 
appreciate what the artist was trying to say and to put into words 
what he read on the canvas. Hence both in his Watts and his 
Blake we get what some of us ask of an art critic the enlarge 
ment of our own powers of vision. This is what made Ruskin 
so great an art critic, a fact once realised, today forgotten. He 
may have made a thousand mistakes, he had a multitude of 
foolish prejudices, but he opened the eyes of a whole generation 
to see and understand great art. 

G.K. was to begin his published writings with poetry and art 
criticism in other words with vision. And this vision he partly 
owed to the Slade School. Here is a letter (undated) to Bentley 
containing a hint of what eight years later became a book on 

On Saturday I saw two exhibitions of pictures. The first was the 
Royal Academy, where I went with Salter. There was one picture 
there, though the walls were decorated with frames very prettily. As 
to the one picture, if you look at an Academy catalogue you will see 
"Jonah": by G. F. Watts, and you will imagine a big silly picture of 
a whale. But if you go to Burlington House you will see something 
terrific. A spare, wild figure, clad in a strange sort of green with his 
head flung so far back that his upper part is a miracle of foreshorten 
ing, his hands thrust out, his face ghastly with ecstasy, his dry lips 

56 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

yelling aloud, a figure of everlasting protest and defiance. And as a 
background (perfect in harmony of colour) you have the tracery of 
the Assyrian bas-reliefs, such as survive in wrecks in the British 
Museum, a row of those processions of numberless captives bowing 
before smiling Kings: a cruel sort of art. And the passionate energy 
of that lonely screaming figure in front, makes you think of a great 
many things besides Assyrians: among others of some words of 
Renan: I quote from memory: "But the trace of Israel will be eternal. 
She it was who alone among the tyrannies of antiquity, raised her 
voice for the helpless, the oppressed, the forgotten/' 

But this only expresses a fraction of it. The only thing to do is to 
come and look at this excited gentleman with bronze skin and hair 
that approaches green, his eyes simply white with madness. And 
Jonah said, "Yea, I do well to be angry: even unto death." 

He had learnt to look at colour, to look at line, to describe pic 
tures. But far more important than this, he could now create in 
the imagination gardens and sunsets and sheer colour, so as to 
give to his novels and stories pictorial value, to his fantasies 
glow, and to his poetry vision of the realities of things. In his 
very first volume of Essays, The Defendant^ were to be passages 
that could be written only by one who had learnt to draw* For 
instance, in "A Defence of Skeletons": 

The actual sight of the little wood, with its grey and silver sea of 
life is entirely a winter vision. So dim and delicate is the heart of the 
winter woods, a kind of glittering gloaming, that a figure stepping 
towards us in the chequered twilight seems as if he were breaking 
through unfathomable depths of spiders* webs. 

In the year 1895, in which G.K. left art for publishing, he 
came of age "with a loud report." He writes to Bentley: 

Being twenty-one years old is really rather good fun* It is one of 
those occasions when you remember the existence of all sorts of 
miscellaneous people. A cousin of mine, Alice Chesterton, daughter 
of my Uncle Arthur, writes me a delightfully cordial letter from 
Berlin, where she is a governess; and better still, my mother has 
received a most amusing letter from an old nurse of mine, an excep 
tionally nice and intelligent nurse, who writes on hearing that it is 

Art Schools and University College 57 

my twenty-first birthday. Billy (an epithet is suppressed) gave me a 
little notebook and a little photograph frame. The first thing I did 
with the notebook was to make a note of his birthday. The first 
thing I shall do with the frame will be to get Grey to give me a 
photograph of him to put into it. Yes, it is not bad, being twenty-one, 
in a world so full of kind people. ... 

I have just been out and got soaking and dripping wet; one of my 
favourite dissipations. I never enjoy weather so much as when it is 
driving, drenching, rattling, washing rain. As Mr. Meredith says in 
the book you gave me, "Rain, O the glad refresher of the grain, and 
welcome water-spouts of blessed rain." (It is in a poem called "Earth 
and a Wedded Woman/* which is fat.) Seldom have I enjoyed a 
walk so much. My sister water was all there and most affectionate. 
Everything I passed was lovely, a little boy pickabacking another 
little boy home, two little girls taking shelter with a gigantic um 
brella, the gutters boiling like rivers and the hedges glittering with 
rain. And when I came to our corner the shower was over, and 
there was a great watery sunset right over No. 80, what Mr. Ruskin 
calls an "opening into Eternity/' Eternity is pink and gold. This may 
seen* a very strange rant, but it is one of my "specimen days." I sup 
pose you would really prefer me to write as I feel, and I am so con 
stituted that these daily incidents get me that way. Yes, I like rain. 
It means something, I am not sure what; something freshening, 
cleaning, washing out, taking in hand, not caring-a-damn-what-you- 
think, doing-its-duty, robust, noisy, moral, wet. It is the Baptism of 
the Church of the Future. 

Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) Lawrence and Maurice came here. 
We were merely infants at play, had skipping races round the garden 
and otherwise raced. ("Runner, run thy race," said Confucius, "and 
in the running find strength and reward.") After that we tried talking 
about Magnus, and came to some hopeful conclusions. Magnus is all 
right. As for Lawrence and Grey, if there is anything Tighter than 
all right, they are that. . . 

There is an expression in Meredith's book which struck me im 
mensely: "the largeness of the evening earth." The sensation that the 
Cosmos has all its windows open is very characteristic of evening, 
just as it is at this moment. I feel very good. Everything out of the 
window looks very, very flat and yellow: I do not know how else to 
describe it. 

It is like the benediction at the end of the service. 

The Notebook 

I AM WRITING THIS chapter at a table facing Notre Dame de 
Paris in front of a caf6 filled with arguing French workmen 
in the presence of God and of Man; and I feel as if I under 
stood the one hatred of G.K.'s life: his loathing of pessimism. 
"Is a man proud of losing his hearing, eyesight or sense of smell? 
What shall we say of him who prides himself on beginning as 
an intellectual cripple and ending as an intellectual corpse?" * 


Woe unto them that keep a God like a silk hat, that believe 

not in God, but in a God. 
Woe unto them that are pompous for they will sooner or 

later be ridiculous. 
Woe unto them that are tired of everything, for everything 

will certainly be tired of them. 

Woe unto them that cast out everything, for out of every 
thing they will be cast out. 
Woe unto them that cast out anything, for out of that thing 

they will be cast out, 

Woe unto the flippant, for they shall receive flippancy. 
Woe unto them that are scornful for they shall receive scorn. 
Woe unto him that considereth his hair foolishly, for his 

hair will be made the type of him. 
Woe unto him that is smart, for men will hold him smart 

always, even when he is serious.f 

A pessimist is a man who has never lived, never suffered: 
"Show me a person who has plenty of worries and troubles and 

* From The Notebook. 


The Notebook 59 

I will show you a person who, whatever he is, is not a pessi 

This idea G.K. developed later in the Dickens, dealing with 
the alleged over-optimism of Dickens- Dickens who if he had 
learnt to whitewash the universe had learnt it in a blacking fac 
tory, Dickens who had learnt through hardship and suffering 
to accept and love the universe. But that he wrote later. The 
quotations given here come from the Notebook begun in 1894 
and used at intervals for the next four or five years, in which 
Gilbert wrote down his philosophy step by step as he came to 
discover it. The handwriting is the work of art that he must 
have learnt and practised, so different is it from his boyhood's 
scrawl. Each idea is set down as it comes into his mind. There 
is no sequence. In this book and in The Coloured Lands may 
be seen the creation of the Chesterton view of life and it all took 
place in his early twenties. From the seed-thoughts here, Ortho 
doxy and the rest were to grow- here they are only seeds but 
seeds containing unmistakably the flower of the future: 

They should not hear from me a word 

Of selfishness or scorn 

If only I could find the door 

If only I were born. 

He makes the Unborn Babe say this in his first volume of poems. 
And in the Notebook we see how the babe coming into the 
world must keep this promise by accepting life with its puzzles, 
its beauty, its fleetingness: "Are we all dust? What a beautiful 
thing dust is though." "This round earth may be a soap-bubble, 
but it must be admitted that there are some pretty colours on 
it." "What is the good of life, it is fleeting; what is the good of 
a cup of coffee, it is fleeting. Ha Ha Ha." 

The birthday present of birth, as he was later to call it in 
Orthodoxy, involved not bare existence only but a wealth of 
other gifts. "A grievance," he heads this thought: 

6o Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Give me a little time, 

I shall not be able to appreciate them all; 

If you open so many doors 

And give me so many presents, O Lord God. 

He is almost overwhelmed with all that he has and with all that 
is, but accepts it ardently in its completeness. 

If the arms of a man could be a fiery circle 

embracing the round world, 
I think I should be that man. 

Yet in the face of all this splendour the pessimist dares to 
find flaws: 

The mountains praise thee, O Lord! 
But what if a mountain said, 

"I praise thee; 

But put a pine-tree halfway up on the left 
It would be much more effective, believe me." 

It is time that the religion of prayer gave 
place to the religion of praise. 

If the mountains must praise God, if the religion of praise 
expresses the truth of things, how much more does it express the 
truth of humanity or rather of men, for he saw humanity not as 
an abstraction but as the sum of human and intensely individual 

Once I found a friend 
"Dear me/' I said, "he was made for me," 
But now I find more and more friends 
Who seem to have been made for me 
And more and yet more made for me, 
Is it possible we were all made for each other 
all over the world? 

And on another page comes perhaps the most significant phrase 
in the book: "I wonder whether there will ever come a 

The Notebook 61 

when I shall be tired of any one person." Hence a fantastic 
thought of a way of making the discovery of more people to 
know and to like: 


Get out a gentleman for a fortnight, then change him for a lady, 
or your ticket. No person to be kept out after a fortnight, except 
with the payment of a penny a day. Any person morally or phys 
ically damaging a man will be held responsible. The Library omni 
bus calls once a week leaving two or three each visit. Man of the 
seasonold standard man. 

Or better still: 

My great ambition is to give a party at which everybody should 
meet everybody else and like them very much. 


Mr. Gilbert Chesterton 

requests the pleasure 

Of humanity's company 

to tea on Dec. 25th 1896. 

Humanity Esq., The Earth, Cosmos E, 

G.K. liked everybody very much, and everything very much 
He liked even the things most of us dislike. He liked to get wet. 
He liked to be tired. After that one short period of struggle he 
liked to call himself "always perfectly happy/' And therefore 
he wanted to say, "Thank you." 

You say grace before meals 

All right. 

But I say grace before the play and the opera, 
And grace before the concert and pantomime, 
And grace before I open a book, 
And grace before sketching, painting, 
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; 
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink. 

6z Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Each day seemed a special gift; something that might not have 


Here dies another day 

During which I have had eyes, ears, hands 

And the great world round me; 

And with tomorrow begins another. 

Why am I allowed two? 


I thank thee, O Lord, for the stones in the street 
I thank thee for the hay-carts yonder and for the 

houses built and half-built 
That fly past me as I stride. 
But most of all for the great wind in my nostrils 
As if thine own nostrils were close. 


The twilight closes round me 

My head is bowed before the Universe 

I thank thee, O Lord, for a child I knew seven 

years ago 
And whom I have never seen since. 

Praised be God for all sides of life, for friends, lovers, art, litera 
ture, knowledge, humour, politics, and for the little red cloud away 
there in the west 

For, if he was to be grateful, to whom did he owe gratitude? 
Here is the chief question he asked and answered at this time. 
At school he was looking for God, but at the age of 16 he was, 
he tells us in Orthodoxy, an Agnostic in the sense of one who 
is not sure one way or the other. Largely it was this need for 
gratitude for what seemed personal gifts that brought him to 
belief in a personal God. Life was personal, it was not a mere 
drift; it had will in it, it was more like a story. 

The Notebook 63 

A story is the highest mark 

For the world is a story and every part of it 

And there is nothing that can touch the world 

or any part of it 
That is not a story. 

And again, with the heading, "A Social Situation." 

We must certainly be in a novel; 
What I like about this novelist is that he takes 
such trouble about his minor characters. 

The story shapes from man's birth and it is as he meets the other 
characters that he finds he is in the right story. 


Perhaps there has been some mistake 

How does he know he has come to the right place? 

But when he finds friends 

He knows he has come to the right place* 

You say it is a love affair 

Hush: it is a new Garden of Eden 

And a new progeny will people a new earth 

God is always making these experiments. 

Life is a story: who tells it? Life is a problem: who sets it? 

The world is a problem, not a Theorem 

And the word of the last Day will be Q.E.F. 

God sets the problem, God tells the story, but can those know 
Him who are characters in His story, who are working out His 

Have you ever known what it is to walk along a road in such a 
frame of mind that you thought you might meet God at any turn 
of the path? 

For this a man must be ready, against this he must never shut 
the door. 

64 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

There is one kind of infidelity blacker than all 

Worse than any blow of secularist, pessimist,, 


It is that of those persons 
Who regard God as an old institution. 


The axe falls on the wood in thuds, "God, God." 

The cry of the rook, "God/' answers it 

The crack of the fire on the hearth, the voice of 

the brook, say the same name; 
All things, dog, cat, fiddle, baby, 
Wind, breaker, sea, thunderclap 
Repeat in a thousand languages- 

Next in his thought comes a point where he hesitates as to 
the meeting place between God and Man. How and where can 
these two incommensurates find a meeting place? What is Incar 
nation? The greatness and the littleness of Man obsessed Ches 
terton as it did Pascal; it is the eternal riddle; 


Man is a spark flying upwards, God is everlasting. 

Who are we, to whom this cup of human life has 
been given, to ask for more? Let us love mercy 
and walk humbly. What is man, that thou re- 
gardest him? 

Man is a star unquenchable. God is in him in 

His life is planned upon a scale colossal, of which 
he sees glimpses. Let him dare all things, 
claim all things: he is the son of Man, who 
shall come in the clouds of glory, 
saw these two strands mingling to make the re 
ligion of man. 

The Notebook 65 

"A scale colossal, of which he sees glimpses/' This, I think, is 
the first hint of the path that led Gilbert to full faith in Our 
Lord. In places in these notes he regards Him certainly only as 
Man but even then as The Man, the Only Man in whom the 
colossal scale, the immense possibilities, of human nature could 
be dreamed of as fulfilled. Two notes on Marcus Aurelius are 
significant of the way his mind was moving. 


A large-minded, delicate-witted, strong man, 
Following the better thing like a thread between 

his hands. 
Him we cannot fancy choosing the lower even by 

mistake; we cannot think of him as wanting 

for a moment in any virtue, sincerity, mercy, 

purity, self-respect, good manners. 
Only one thing is wanting in him. He does not 

command me to perform the impossible. 


The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. 
Yes: he was soliloquising, not making something. 
Do not the words of Jesus ring 
Like nails knocked into a board 
In his father's workshop? 

On two consecutive pages are notes showing how his mind is 
wrestling with the question, the answer to which would com 
plete his philosophy; 


Good news: but if you ask me what it is, I know not; 
It is a track of feet in the snow, 
It is a lantern showing a path, 
It is a door set open. 

66 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 


I live in an age of varied powers and knowledge, 

Of steam, science, democracy, journalism, art- 

But when my love rises like a sea, 

I have to go back to an obscure tribe and a slain man 

To formulate a blessing. 


"Vicisti Galilaee," he said, and sank conquered 
After wrestling with the most gigantic of powers, 
A dead man. 


On a naked slope of a poor province 
A Roman soldier stood staring at a gibbet, 
Then he said, "Surely this was a righteous man/' 
And a new chapter of history opened, 
Having that for its motto. 


There was a man who dwelt in the east centuries ago, 
And now I cannot look at a sheep or a sparrow, 
A lily or a cornfield, a raven or a sunset, 
A vineyard or a mountain, without thinking of him; 
If this be not to be divine, what is it? 

Cecil Chesterton tells us Gilbert read the Gospels partly be 
cause he was not forced to read them: I suppose this really means 
that he read them with a mature mind which had not been 
dulled to their reception by a childhood task of routine lessons. 
But I do not think at this date it had occurred to him to ques 
tion the assumption of the period: that official Christianity, its 
priesthood especially, Lad travestied the original intention of 
Christ, This idea is in the Wild Knight volume (published in 
1900) and more briefly in a suggestion in the Notebook for a 
proposed drama: 

The Notebook 67 

Gabriel is hammering up a little theatre and the 

child looks at his hands, and finds them torn 

with nails. 
Clergyman. The Church should stand by the 

powers that be. 
Gabriel. Yes? , . . That is a handsome crucifix 

you have there at your chain. 

That the clergy, that the Christian people, should have settled 
down to an acceptance of a faulty established order, should not 
be alert to all that Our Lord's life signified, was one of the prob 
lems. It was, too, a matter of that cosmic loyalty which he ana 
lyses more fully in Orthodoxy. Here he simply writes: 

It is not a question of Theology, 
It is a question of whether, placed as a sentinel 
of an unknown watch, you will whistle or not. 

Sentinels do go to sleep and he was coming to feel that this 
want of vigilance ran through the whole of humanity. In 'White 
Wynd," a sketch written at this time, 3 '' he adumbrates an idea 
to which he was to return again in Manalive especially, and in 
Orthodoxy that we can by custom so lose our sense of reality 
that the only way to enjoy and be grateful for our possessions is 
to lose them for a while. The shortest way home is to go round 
the world. In this story of 'White Wynd" he applies the parable 
only to each man's life and the world he lives in. But in Ortho 
doxy he applies it to the human race who have lost revealed 
truth by getting so accustomed to it that they no longer look 
at it. And already in the Notebook he is calling the attention of 
a careless multitude to "that great Empire upon which the sun 
never sets. I allude to the Universe." 

Most of the quotations about Our Lord come in the later part 
of the book: in the earlier pages he dreams that "to this age it 
is given to write the great new song, and to compile the new 
Bible, and to found the new Church, and preach the new 

* It is published in The Coloured Lands. 

68 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Religion/' And in one rather obscure passage he seems to hint 
at the thought that Christ might come again to shape this new 

Going round the world, Gilbert was finding his way home; 
the explorer was rediscovering his native country. He himself 
has given us all the metaphors for what was happening now in 
his mind. Without a single Catholic friend he had discovered 
this wealth of Catholic truth and he was still travelling* "All this 
I felt," he later summed it up in Orthodoxy, "and the age gave 
me no encouragement to feel it. And all this time I had not even 
thought of Catholic theology." 

Towards a Career 

A CURIOUS LITTLE incident comes towards the end of 
Gilbert's time at the Slade School. In a letter he wrote to 
E. C. Bentley we see him, on the eve of his 2ist birthday, being 
invited to write for the Academy: 

Mr. Cotton is a little bristly, bohemian man, as fidgetty as a kitten, 
who runs round the table while he talks to you. When he agrees 
with you he shuts his eyes tight and shakes his head. When he 
means anything rather seriously he ends up with a loud nervous 
laugh. He talks incessantly and is mad on the history of Oxford. I 
sent him my review of Ruskin and he read it before me (Note. 
Hell) and delivered himself with astonishing rapidity to the fol 
lowing effect: "This is very good: you've got something to say: Oh, 
yes: this is worth saying: I agree with you about Ruskin and about 
the Century: this is good: youVe no idea: if you saw some stuff: 
some reviews I get: the fellows are practised but of all the damned 
fools: youVe no idea: they know the trade in a way: but such infernal 
asses: as send things up: but this is very good: that sentence does 
run nicely: but I like your point: make it a litde longer and then 
send it in: I've got another book for you to review: you know Robert 
Bridges? Oh very good, very good: here it is: about two columns 
you know: by the way: keep the Ruskin for yourself: you deserve 
that anyhow/' 

Here I got a word in: one of protest and thanks. But Mr. Cotton 
insisted on my accepting the Ruskin. So I am really to serve Laban. 
Laban proves on analysis to be of the consistency of brick. It is such 
men as this that have made our Cosmos what it is. At one point he 
said, literally dancing with glee: "Oh, the other day I stuck some 
pins into Andrew Lang." I said, "Dear me, that must be a very good 


70 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

game." It was something about an edition of Scott, but I was told 
that Andrew "took" the painful operation "very well," We sat up 
horribly late together talking about Browning, Afghans, Notes, the 
Yellow Book, the French Revolution, William Morris, Norsemen 
and Mr. Richard Le Gallienne* "I don't despair for anyone," he said 
suddenly, "Hang it all, that's what you mean by humanity." This 
appears to be a rather good editor of the Academy. And my joy in 
having begun my life is very great. "I am tired," I said to Mr. Brod- 
ribb, "of writing only what I like." "Oh, well," he said heartily, 
"you'll have no reason to make that complaint in journalism." 

But here is a mystery. Nowhere in the Academy columns for 
1895 or ^96 are to be seen the initials G.K.C., yet at that date 
all the reviews are signed. Mr. Eccles, who was writing for it 
at the time, told me that he had no recollection of G.K. among 
the contributors and later he came to know him well when both 
were together on the Speaker. In any case, the idea of reviewing 
for no reward except the book reviewed would scarcely appeal 
to a more practical man than Gilbert as a hopeful beginning* 
Perhaps the mystery is solved by the fact that soon after the 
date of this letter Mr. Cotton got an appointment in India. To 
Mr. Eccles it appeared somewhat ironical that the unpaid con 
tributors to the Academy were circularised with a suggestion of 
contributions of money towards a parting present for their late 

The actual beginning of G.K/s journalism was in The "Book- 
tram; and in the Autobiography he insists that it was a matter of 
mere luck: "these opportunities were merely things that hap 
pened to me." While still at the Slade School, he was, as we have 
seen, attending English lectures at University College. There he 
met a fellow-student, Ernest Hodder Williams, of the family 
which, controlled the publishing house of Hodder & Stoughton. 
He gave Chesterton some books on art to review for The Book* 
man, a monthly paper published by the firm. "I need not say/' 
G.K. comments, "that having entirely failed to learn how to draw 
or paint, I tossed off easily enough some criticisms of the weaker 

Towards a Career 71 

points of Rubens or the misdirected talents of Tintoretto. I had 
discovered the easiest of all professions, which I have pursued 
ever since/' But neither in the art criticism he wrote for The 
Bookman nor in the poems he was to publish in The Outlook 
and The Speaker was there a living. He left the Slade School 
and went to work for a publisher. 

Mr. Redway, in whose office Gilbert now found himself, was 
a publisher largely of spiritualist literature. Gilbert has described 
in his Autobiography his rather curious experience of ghostly 
authorship, but he relates nothing of his office experience, which 
is described in another undated letter to Mr. Bentley: 

I am writing this letter just when I like most to write one, late 
at night, after a beastly lot of midnight oil over a contribution for a 
Slade Magazine, intended as a public venture. I am sending them a 
recast of that "Picture of Tuesday." 

Like you, I am beastly busy, but there is something exciting about 
it. If I must be busy (as I certainly must, being an approximately 
honest man) I had much rather be busy in a varied, mixed up way, 
with half a hundred things to attend to, than with one blank day 
of monotonous "study" before me. To give you some idea of what I 
mean. I have been engaged in 3 different tiring occupations and 
enjoyed them all. (i) Redway says, "We've got too many MSS; 
read through them, will you, and send back those that are too bad at 
once/' I go slap through a room full of MSS, criticising deuced 
conscientiously, with the result that I post back some years of MSS 
to addresses, which I should imagine, must be private asylums. But 
one feels worried, somehow. . . . 

(2) Redway says, Tm going to give you entire charge of the press 
department, sending copies to Reviews, etc." Consequence is, one has 
to keep an elaborate book and make it tally with other elaborate 
books, and one has to remember all the magazines that exist and 
what sort of books they'd crack up. I used to think I hated responsi 
bility: I am positively getting to enjoy it. (3) There is that con 
founded "Picture of Tuesday" which I have been scribbling at the 
whole evening, and have at last got it presentable. This sounds like 
mere amusement, but, now that I have tried other kinds of hurry 
and bustle, I solemnly pledge myself to the opinion that there is no 

72. Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

work so tiring as writing, that is, not for fun, but for publication. 
Other work has a repetition, a machinery, a reflex action about it 
somewhere, but to be on the stretch inventing things, making them 
out of nothing, making them as good as you can for a matter of four 
hours leaves me more inclined to lie down and read Dickens than 
I ever feel after nine hours ramp at Redway's. The worst of it is 
that you always think the thing so bad too when you're in that state. 

I can't imagine anything more idiotic than what I've just finished. 

Well, enough of work and all its works. By all means come on 
Monday evening, but don't be frightened if by any chance I'm not 
in till about 6.30, as Monday is a busy day. Of course youll stop to 
dinner . . . what an idiotically long time 8 weeks is. ... 

This letter does not seem to bear out the suggestion in Cecil's 
book* of Gilbert's probable uselessness to the publishers for 
whom he worked. After all, literacy is more needful to most 
publishers than automatic practicality, because it is so very much 
rarer. Probably G.K. would have been absolutely invaluable had 
he been a little less kind-hearted. His dislike of sending back a 
manuscript and making an author unhappy would have been a 
bar to his utility as a reader. But there are lots of other things to 
do besides rejecting manuscripts, and two later letters show how 
capable Gilbert was felt to be in doing most of them. 

The exact date at which he left Redway's for the publishing 
firm of Fisher Unwin (of 1 1 Paternoster Buildings) I cannot dis 
cover, but it was fairly early and he was several years with Fisher 
Unwin, only gradually beginning to move over into journalism. 

"He did nothing for himself," says Lucian Oldershaw, "till 
we [Bentley and Oldershaw] came down from Oxford and 
pushed him*" 

The following letters belong to 1898, being written to Frances 
when they were already engaged, but I put them here as they 
give some notion of the work he did for his employer. 

, . , The book I have to deal with for Unwin is an exhaustive 
and I am told interesting work on "Rome and the Empire" a kind 
* G. K. Chesterton; A Criticism, see p, 23. 

Towards a Career 73 

of realistic, modern account of the life of the ancient world. I have 
got to fix it up, choose illustrations, introductions, notes, etc., and 
all because I am the only person who knows a little Latin and 
precious little Roman history and no more archaeology than a blind 
cat. It is entertaining, and just like our firm's casual way. The work 
ought to be done by an authority on Roman antiquities. If I hadn't 
been there they would have given it to the office boy. 

However, I shall get through it all right: the more I see of the 
publishing world, the more I come to the conclusion that I know 
next to nothing, but that the vast mass of literary people know less. 
This is sometimes called having "a public-school education." * 

I have a lot of work to do, as Unwin has given the production of 
an important book entirely into. my hands, as a kind of invisible 
editor. It is complimentary, but very worrying, and will mean a lot 
of time at the British Museum.f 

1 1 Paternoster Bldgs. 
(Postmark, December 1898) 

. . . For fear that you should really suppose that my observations 
about being busy are the subterfuges of a habitual liar, I may give 
you briefly some idea of the irons at present in the fire. As far as I 
can make out there are at least seven things that I have undertaken 
to do and everyone of them I ought to do before any of the others. 

i st. There is the book about Ancient Rome which I have to do 
for T.F.U. arrange and get illustrations etc. This all comes of show 
ing off. It is a story with a moral (Greedy Gilbert: or Little Boys 
Should be Seen and not Heard). A short time ago I had to read a 
treatise by Dean Stubbs on "The Ideal Woman of the Poets" in 
which the Dean remarked that "all the women admired by Horace 
were wantons." This struck me as a downright slander, slight as is 
my classical knowledge, and in my report I asked loftily what Dean 
Stubbs made of those noble lines on the wife who hid her husband 
from his foes. 

Splendide mendax et m omne virgo 
Nobilis aevum 

* Extract from undated letter (postmarked, Aug. u, 1898). 
t Extract from undated letter (postmarked, Aug, 29, 

74 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

One of the purest and stateliest tributes ever made to a woman. 
(The lines might be roughly rendered "A magnificent liar and a 
noble lady for all eternity"; but no translation can convey the organ- 
voice of the verse, in which the two strong and lonely words "noble" 
and "eternity" stand solitary for the last line.) In consequence of 
my taking up the cudgels against a live Dean for the manly moral 
sense of the dear old Epicurean, the office became impressed with a 
vague idea that I know something about Latin literature whereas, 
as a matter of fact I have forgotten even the line before the one I 
quoted. However, in the most confidential and pathetic manner I 
was entrusted with doing with "Rome et TEmpire" work which 
ought to be done by a scholar. . . . 

2nd, Then there is Captain Webster, You ask (in gruff, rumbling 
tones) "Who is Captain Webster?" I will tell you. 

Captain Webster is a small man with a carefully waxed moustache 
and a very Bond Street get up, living at the Grosvenor Hotel. Talk 
ing to him you would say: he is an ass, but an agreeable ass, a 
humble, transparent honourable ass. He is an innocent and idiotic 
butterfly. The interesting finishing touch is that he has been to New 
Guinea for four years or so, and had some of the most hideous and 
extravagant adventures that could befall a modern man. His yacht 
was surrounded by shoals of canoes full of myriads of cannibals of 
a race who file their teeth to look like the teeth of dogs, and hang 
weights in their ears till the ears hang like dogs* ears, on the shoulder. 
He held his yacht at the point of the revolver and got away, leaving 
some of his men dead on the shore. All night long he heard the 
horrible noise of the banqueting gongs and saw the huge fires that 
told his friends were being eaten. Now he lives in the Grosvenor 
Hotel. Captain Webster finds the pen, not only mightier than the 
sword, but also much more difficult. He has written his adventures 
and we are to publish them and I am translating the honest captain 
into English grammar, a thing which appals him much more than 
Papuan savages. This means going through it carefully of course 
and rewriting many parts of it, where relatives and dependent 
sentences have been lost past recovery. I went to see him, and his 
childlike dependence on me was quite pathetic. His general attitude 
was, "You see I'm such a damned fool." And so he is. But when I 
compare him with the Balzacian hauteur and the preposterous posing 
of many of our Fleet Street decadent geniuses, I feel a movement of 

Towards a Career 75 

the blood which declares that perhaps there are worse things than 
War. (Between ourselves, I have a sneaking sympathy with fight 
ing: I fought horribly at school. It is well you should know my 

3rd. There is the selection of illustrations for the History of China 
we are producing. I know no more of China than the Man in the 
Moon (less, for he has seen it, at any rate), except what I got from 
reading the book, but of course I shall make the most of what I do 
know and airily talk of La-o-tsee and Wu-sank-Wei, criticise Chung- 
tang and Fu-Tche, compare Tchieu Lung with his great successor, 
whose name I have forgotten, and the Napoleonic vigour of Li with 
the weak opportunism of Woo. Before I have done I hope people 
will be looking behind for my pig-tail. The name I shall adopt will 
be Tches-Ter-Ton. 

4th. A MS to read translated from the Norwegian: a History of 
the Kiss, Ceremonial, Amicable, Amatory, etc. in the worst French 
sentimental style. God alone knows how angry I am with the author 
of that book. I am not sure that I shall not send up the brief report. 
"A snivelling hound/' 

5th. The book for Nutt [Greybeards at Play], which has reached 
its worst stage, that of polishing up for the eye of Nutt, instead of 
merely rejoicing in the eye of God. Do you know this is the only 
one of the lot about which I am at all worried. I do not feel as if 
things like the Fish poem are really worth publishing. I know they 
are better than many books that are published, but Heaven knows 
that is not saying much. In support of some of my work I would 
fight to the last. But with regard to this occasional verse I feel a 
humbug. To publish a book of my nonsense verses seems to me ex 
actly like summoning the whole of the people of Kensington to see 
me smoke cigarettes. 

Macgregor told me that I should do much better in the business 
of literature if I found the work more difficult. My facility, he said, 
led me to undervalue my work. I wonder whether this is true, and 
those silly rhymes are any good after all. 

6th. The collection of more serious poems of which I spoke to you. 
You shall have a hand in the selection of these when you get back. 

7th. The Novel which though I have put it aside for the present, 
yet has become too much a part of me not to be constantly having 
chapters written or rather growing out of the others. 

j6 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

And all these things, with the exception of the last one, are sup 
posed to be really urgent, and to be done immediately. . , Now I 
hope I have sickened you forever of wanting to know the details of 
my dull affairs. But I hope it may give you some notion of how hard 
it really is to get time for writing just now. For you see they are none 
of them even mechanical things: they all require some thinking 

I am afraid . . that if you really want to know what I do, you 
must forgive me for seeming egoistic. That is the tragedy of the 
literary person: his very existence is an assertion of his own mental 
vanity: he must pretend to be conceited even if he isn't. , . . 

Beginning to publish, beginning to write, and still develop 
ing mentally at a frantic ratethis is a summary of the years 

As the Notebook shows, Gilbert was reflecting deeply at this 
time on the relations both between God and man and between 
man and his fellow man. The realisation that their relations had 
gone very far wrong was necessarily followed for Gilbert's mind 
was an immensely practical one by the question of what the 
proposed remedies were worth. He has told us that he became a 
Socialist at this time only because it was intolerable not to be 
a Socialist. The Socialists seemed the only people who were 
looking at conditions as they were and finding them unendur 
able. Christian Socialism seemed at first sight, for anyone who 
admired Christ, to be the obvious form of Socialism, and, in a 
fragment of this period, G.K, traces the resemblance of modern 
collectivism to early Christianity, 

The points in which Christian and Socialistic collectivism are at 
one are simple and fundamental. As, however, we must proceed care 
fully in this matter, we may state these points of resemblance under 
three heads, 

CO Both rise from the deeps of an emotion, the emotion of com 
passion for misfortune, as such. This is really a very important point. 
Collectivism is not an intellectual fad, even if erroneous, but a pas 
sionate protest and aspiration: it arises as a secret of the heart, a 

Towards a Career 77 

dream of the injured feeling, long before it shapes itself as a definite 
propaganda at all. The intellectual philosophies ally themselves with 
success and preach competition, but the human heart allies itself 
with misfortune and suggests communism. 

(2) Both trace the evil state of society to "covetousness," the com 
petitive desire to accumulate riches. Thus, both in one case and the 
other, the mere possession of wealth is in itself an offence against 
moral order, the absence of it in itself a recommendation and train 
ing for the higher life. 

(3) Both propose to remedy the evil of competition by a system 
of "bearing each other's burdens" in the literal sense, that is to say, 
of levelling, silencing and reducing one's own chances, for the 
chance of your weaker brethren. The desirability, they say, of a great 
or clever man acquiring fame is small compared with the desirability 
of a weak and broken man acquiring bread. The strong man is a 
man, and should modify or adapt himself to the hopes of his 
mates. He that would be first among you, let him be the servant of 

These are the three fountains of collectivist passion. I have not 
considered it necessary to enter into elaborate proof of the presence 
of these three in the Gospels. That the main trend of Jesus' char 
acter was compassion for human ills, that he denounced not merely 
covetousness but riches again and again, and with an almost im 
patient emphasis, and that he insisted on his followers throwing up 
personal aims and sharing funds and fortune entirely, these are plain 
matters of evidence presented again and again, and, in fact, of com 
mon admission. 

Yet that uncanny thing in Gilbert which always forced him 
to see facts, mutinied again at this point and produced another 
fragment in which he has moved closer to Christianity and 
thereby further away from modern Socialism. The world he 
lived in contained a certain number of Christians who were, he 
found, highly doubtful about the Christian impulse of Social 
ism. And most of his Socialist friends had about them a tone of 
bitterness and an atmosphere of hopelessness utterly unlike the 
tone and the atmosphere of Christianity. Just as atheists wer 
the first people to turn Gilbert from Atheism towards dogmatic 

78 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Christianity, so the Socialists were now turning him from Social 

The next fragment is rather long, but it was never published 
and I think it so important, as showing how his mind was mov 
ing, that it cannot well be shortened. It is a document of capital 
importance for the biography of Chesterton. 

Now, for my own part, I cannot in the least agree with thpse who 
see no difference between Christian and modern Socialism, nor do I 
for a moment join in some Christian Socialists' denunciations of those 
worthy middle-class people who cannot see the connection. For I 
cannot help thinking that in a way these latter people are right. No 
reasonable man can read the Sermon on the Mount and think that 
its tone is not very different from that of most collectivist speculation 
of the present day, and the Philistines feel this, though they cannot 
distinctly express it* There is a difference between Christ's Socialist 
program and that of our own time, a difference deep, genuine and 
all important, and it is this which I wish to point out- 
Let us take two types side by side, or rather the same type in the 
two different atmospheres. Let us take the "rich young man" of the 
Gospels and place beside him the rich young man of the present day, 
on the threshold of Socialism. If we were to follow the difficulties, 
theories, doubts, resolves, and conclusions of each of these characters, 
we should find two very distinct threads of self-examination running 
through the two lives. And the essence of the difference was this: 
the modern socialist is saying, "What will society do?" while his 
prototype, as we read, said, "What shall I do?" Properly considered, 
this latter sentence contains the whole essence of the older Com 
munism. The modern socialist regards his theory of regeneration as 
a duty which society owes to him, the early Christian regarded it 
as a duty which he owed to society; the modern socialist is busy 
framing schemes for its fulfilment, the early Christian was busy con 
sidering whether he would himself fulfil it there and then; the ideal 
of modem socialism is an elaborate Utopia to which he hopes the 
world may be tending, the ideal of the early Christian was an actual 
nucleus "living the new life" to whom he might join himself if he 
liked. Hence die constant note running through the whole gospel, 
of die importance, difficulty and excitement of the "call," the indi- 


Towards a Career 79 

vidual and practical request made by Christ to every rich man, "Sell 
all thou hast and give to the poor." 

To us Socialism comes speculatively as a noble and optimistic 
theory of what may [be] the crown of progress, to Peter and James 
and John it came practically as a crisis of their own daily life, a 
stirring question of conduct and renunciation. 

We do not therefore in the least agree with those who hold that 
modem socialism is an exact counterpart or fulfilment of the social 
ism of Christianity. We find the difference important and profound, 
despite the common ground of anti-selfish collectivism. The modern 
socialist regards Communism as a distant panacea for society, the 
early Christian regarded it as an immediate and difficult regenera 
tion of himself: the modern socialist reviles, or at any rate reproaches, 
society for not adopting it, the early Christian concentrated his 
thoughts on the problem of his own fitness and unfitness to adopt 
it: to the modern socialist it is a theory, to the early Christian it was 
a call; modem socialism says, "Elaborate a broad, noble and work 
able system and submit it to the progressive intellect of society." 
Early Christianity said, "Sell all thou hast and give to the poor/' 

This distinction between the social and personal way of regarding 
the change has two sides, a spiritual and a practical which we pro 
pose to notice. The spiritual side of it, though of less direct and revo 
lutionary importance than the practical, has still a very profound 
philosophic significance. To us it appears something extraordinary 
that this Christian side of socialism, the side of the difficulty of the 
personal sacrifice, and the patience, cheerfulness, and good temper 
necessary for the protracted personal surrender is so constantly over 
looked. The literary world is flooded with old men seeing visions and 
young men dreaming dreams, with various stages of anti-competitive 
enthusiasm, with economic apocalypses, elaborate Utopias and mush 
room destinies of mankind. And, as far as we have seen, in all this 
whirlwind of theoretic excitement there is not a word spoken of the 
intense practical difficulty of the summons to the individual, the 
heavy, unrewarding cross borne by him who gives up the world. 

For it will not surely be denied that not only will Socialism be 
impossible without some effort on the part of individuals, but that 
Socialism if once established would be rapidly dissolved, or worse 
still, diseased, if the individual members of the community did not 
make a constant effort to do that which in the present state of 

80 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

human nature must mean an effort, to live the higher life. Mere 
state systems could not bring about and still less sustain a reign of 
unselfishness, without a cheerful decision on the part of the members 
to forget selfishness even in little things, and for that most difficult 
and at the same time most important personal decision Christ made 
provision and the modern theorists make no provision at all. Some 
modern socialists do indeed see that something more is necessary for 
the golden age than fixed incomes and universal stores tickets, and 
that the fountain heads of all real improvement are to be found in 
human temper and character. Mr. William Morris, for instance, in 
his "News from Nowhere" gives a beautiful picture of a land ruled 
by Love, and rightly grounds the give-and-take camaraderie of his 
ideal state upon an assumed improvement in human nature. But he 
does not tell us how such an improvement is to be effected, and 
Christ did. Of Christ's actual method in this matter I shall speak 
afterwards when dealing with the practical aspect, my object just 
now is to compare the spiritual and emotional effects of the call of 
Christ, as compared to those of the vision of Mr. William Morris. 
When we compare the spiritual attitudes of two thinkers, one of 
whom is considering whether social history has been sufficiently a 
course of improvement to warrant him in believing that it will 
culminate in universal altruism, while the other is considering 
whether he loves other people enough to walk down tomorrow to the 
market-place and distribute everything but his staff and his scrip, it 
will not be denied that the latter is likely to undergo certain deep 
and acute emotional experiences, which will be quite unknown to 
the former. And these emotional experiences are what we under 
stand as the spiritual aspect of the distinction. For three character 
istics at least the Galilean programme makes more provision; humil 
ity, activity, cheerfulness, the real triad of Christian virtues. 

Humility is a grand, a stirring thing, the exalting paradox of 
Christianity, and the sad want of it in our own time is, we believe, 
what really makes us think life dwll, like a cynic, instead of marvel 
lous, like a child. With this, however, we have at present nothing 
to do. What we have to do with is the unfortunate fact that among 
no persons is it more wanting than among socialists, Christian and 
other. The isolated or scattered protest for a complete change in 
social order, the continual harping on one string, the necessarily 
jaundiced contemplation of a system already condemned, and above 

Towards a Career 81 

all, the haunting pessimistic whisper of a possible hopelessness of 
overcoming the giant forces of success, all these impart undeniably 
to the modern socialist a tone excessively imperious and bitter. Nor 
can we reasonably blame the average money-getting public for their 
impatience with the monotonous virulence of men who are con 
stantly reviling them for not living communistically, and who after 
all, are not doing it themselves. Willingly do we allow that these 
latter enthusiasts think it impossible in the present state of society 
to practise their ideal, but this fact, while vindicating their indis 
putable sincerity, throws an unfortunate vagueness and inconclusive- 
ness over their denunciations of other people in the same position. 
Let us compare with this arrogant and angry tone among the modern 
Utopians who can only dream "the life," the tone of the early Chris 
tian who was busy living it. As far as we know, the early Christians 
never regarded it as astonishing that the world as they found it was 
competitive and unregenerate; they seem to have felt that it could 
not in its pre-Christian ignorance have been anything else, and their 
whole interest was bent on their own standard of conduct and ex 
hortation which was necessary to convert it. They felt that it was by 
no merit of theirs that they had been enabled to enter into the life 
before the Romans, but simply as a result of the fact that Christ had 
appeared in Galilee and not in Rome. Lastly, they never seem to 
have entertained a doubt that the message would itself convert the 
world with a rapidity and ease which left no room for severe con 
demnation of the heathen societies. 

With regard to the second merit, that of activity, there can be 
little doubt as to where it lies between the planner of the Utopia 
and the convert of the brotherhood. The modern Socialist is a vision 
ary, but in this he is on the same ground as half the great men of 
the world, and to some extent of the early Christian himself, who 
rushed towards a personal ideal very difficult to sustain. The vision 
ary who yearns toward an ideal which is practically impossible is 
not useless or mischievous, but often the opposite; but the person 
who is often useless, and always mischievous, is the visionary who 
dreams with the knowledge or the half-knowledge that his ideal is 
impossible. The early Christian might be wrong in believing that by 
entering the brotherhood men could in a few years become perfect 
even as their Father in Heaven was perfect, but he believed it and 
acted flatly and fearlessly on the belief: this is the type of the higher 

8z Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

visionary. But all the insidious dangers of the vision; the idleness, 
the procrastination, the mere mental aestheticism, come in when the 
vision is indulged, as half our socialistic conceptions are, as a mere 
humour or fairy-tale, with a consciousness, half -confessed, that it is 
beyond practical politics, and that we need not be troubled with its 
immediate fulfilment. The visionary who believes in his own most 
frantic vision is always noble and useful. It is the visionary who 
does not believe in his vision who is the dreamer, the idler, the 
Utopian. This then is the second moral virtue of the older school, 
an immense direct sincerity of action, a cleansing away, by the 
sweats of hard work, of all those subtle and perilous instincts of 
mere ethical castle-building which have been woven like the spells 
of an enchantress, round so many of the strong men of our own time. 
The third merit, which I have called cheerfulness, is really the 
most important of all We may perhaps put the comparison in this 
way. It might strike many persons as strange that in a time on the 
whole so optimistic in its intellectual beliefs as this is, in an age when 
only a small minority disbelieve in social progress, and a large 
majority believe in an ultimate social perfection, there should be 
such a tired and blas feeling among numbers of young men. This, 
we think, is due, not to the want of an ultimate ideal, but to that 
of any immediate way of making for it: not of something to hope 
but of something to do. A human being is not satisfied and never 
will be satisfied with being told that it is all right: what he wants 
is not a prediction of what other people will be hundreds of years 
hence, to make him cheerful, but a new and stirring test and task 
for himself, which will assuredly make him cheerful A knight is 
not contented with the statement that his commander has laid his 
plans so as to insure victory: what the knight wants is a sword. This 
demand for a task is not mere bravado, it is an eternal and natural 
part of the higher optimism, as deep-rooted as the foreshadowing 
of perfection* 

I do not know whether Gilbert would yet have actually called 
himself a Christian* He was certainly tending towards the more 
Christian elements in his surroundings. It seems pretty clear 
from all he wrote and said later that he did not hold that trans 
formation to have been fully effected until after his meeting 
with Frances, to whom he wrote many years later: 

Towards a Career 83 

Therefore I bring these rhymes to you 
Who brought the Cross to me. 

These papers are undated and are arranged in no sequence. It 
is possible this last one was written after their first meeting. 
Certain it is that in it he had begun feeling after a more Chris 
tian arrangement of society than Socialism offered and particu 
larly after an arrangement better suited to the nature of man. 
This thought of man's nature as primary was to remain the 
basis of his social thinking to the end of his life. 


Incipit Vita Nova 

N THB NOTEBOOK may be seen Gilbert's occasional thoughts 
about his own future love story. 


Suddenly in the midst of friends, 
Of brothers known to me more and more, 
And their secrets, histories, tastes, hero-worships, 
Schemes, love-affairs, known to me 

Suddenly I felt lonely, 

Felt like a child in a field with no more games to play 
Because I have not a lady 

to whom to send my thought at that hour 

that she might crown my peace. 


About Her whom I have not yet met 

I wonder what she is doing 

Now, at this sunset hour, 

Working perhaps, or playing, worrying or laughing, 
Is she making tea, or singing a song, or writing, 

or praying, or reading 
Is she thoughtful, as I am thoughtful 

Is she looking now out of the window 

As I am looking out of the window? 

But a few pages later comes the entry: 


You are a very stupid person, 

I don't believe you have the least idea how nice you arc 

Inci'pit Vita Nova 85 

F.B. was Frances, daughter of a diamond merchant some time 
dead. The family was of French descent, the name de Blogue 
having been somewhat unfortunately anglicised into Blogg. They 
had fallen from considerable wealth into a degree of poverty 
that made it necessary for the three daughters to earn a living. 
Frances was never strong and Gilbert has told how utterly ex 
hausted she was at the end of each day's toil "she worked very 
hard as secretary of an educational society in London/'* The 
family lived in Bedford Park, a suburb of London that went in 
for artistic housing and a kind of garden-city atmosphere long 
before this was at all general. Judging by their photographs the 
three girls must all have been remarkably pretty, and young men 
frequented the house in great numbers, among them Brimley 
Johnson who was engaged to Gertrude, and Lucian Oldersh^w 
who later married Ethel. Some time in 1896, Oldershaw took 
Gilbert to call and Gilbert, literally at first sight, fell in love with 


God made you very carefully 
He set a star apart for it 
He stained it green and gold with fields 
And aureoled it with sunshine 
He peopled it with kings, peoples, republics 
And so made you, very carefully. 
All nature is God's book, filled with his rough sketches 
for you.f 

When almost forty years later Gilbert was writing his Auto- 
yiogrcvphy, Frances asked him to keep her out of it. The liking 
they both had for keeping private life private made him call it 
"this Very Victorian narrative." Nevertheless he tells us some 
thing of the early days of their acquaintance. Gilbert had men 
tioned the moon: 

* Autobiography, p. 153. -fThe Notebook. 

86 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

She told me in the most normal and unpretentious tone that she 
hated the moon, I talked to the same lady several times afterwards; 
and found that this was a perfectly honest statement of the fact. Her 
attitude on this and other things might be called a prejudice; but it 
could not possibly be called a fad, still less an affectation. She really 
had an obstinate objection to all those natural forces that seemed to 
be sterile or aimless; she disliked loud winds that seemed to be going 
nowhere; she did not care much for the sea, a spectacle of which I 
was very fond; and by the same instinct she was up against the moon, 
which she said looked like an imbecile. On the other hand, she had 
a sort of hungry appetite for all the fruitful things like fields and 
gardens and anything connected with production; about which she 
was quite practical. She practised gardening; in that curious cockney 
culture she would have been quite ready to practise farming; and 
on the same perverse principle, she actually practised a religion. This 
was something utterly unaccountable both to me and to the whole 
fussy culture in which she lived. Any number of people proclaimed 
religions, chiefly oriental religions, analysed or argued about them; 
but that anybody could regard religion as a practical thing like gar 
dening was something quite new to me and, to her neighbours, new 
and incomprehensible. She had been, by an accident, brought up in 
the school of an Anglo-Catholic convent; and to all that agnostic or 
mystic world, practising a religion was much more puzzling than 
professing it. She was a queer card. She wore a green velvet dress 
barred with grey fur, which I should have called artistic, but that 
she hated all the talk about art; and she had an attractive face, which 
I should have called elvish, but that she hated all the talk about 
elves. But what was arresting and almost blood-curdling about her, 
in that social atmosphere, was not so much that she hated it, as that 
she was entirely unaffected by it. She never knew what was meant 
by being "under the influence" of Yeats or Shaw or Tolstoy or any 
body else. She was intelligent, with a great love of literature, and 
especially of Stevenson* But if Stevenson had walked into the room 
and explained his personal doubts about personal immortality, she 
would have regretted that he should be wrong upon the point; but 
would otherwise have been utterly unaffected. She was not at all like 
Robespierre, except in a taste for neatness in dress; and yet it is 
only in Mr. Belloc's book on Robespierre that I have ever found any 
words that describe the unique quality that cut her off from the 
current culture and saved her from it. "God had given him in his 

Incipit Vita Nova 87 

mind a stone tabernacle in which certain great truths were preserved 

A letter to a friend, Mildred Wain, who was now engaged 
to Waldo d'Avigdor, makes the future tolerably easy to foresee. 

. , . My brother wishes me to thank you with ferocious gratitude 
for the music, which he is enjoying tremendously. It reminds me 
rather of what Miss Frances Blogg but that is another story. 

In your last letter you enquired whether I saw anything of the 
Bloggs now. If you went and put that question to them there would 
be a scene. Mrs. Blogg would probably fall among the fire-irons, 
Knollys would foam in convulsions on the carpet, Ethel would scream 
and take refuge on the mantelpiece and Gertrude faint and break 
off her engagement. Frances would but no intelligent person can 
affect an interest in what she does. 

Lawrence Solomon told me that Mrs. Edward Chesterton did 
not approve of the rather arty-crafty atmosphere of Bedford 
Parkthat earliest of Garden Cities, so conventionally uncon 
ventionalwhere Frances lived. She did not like her son's friend 
ship with the Bloggs and she had chosen for him a girl who she 
felt would make him an ideal wife: "Very open air/' Mr. Solo 
mon said. "Not booky, but good at games and practical." He was 
not sure whether Gilbert realised this, but personally I believe 
that Gilbert realised everything. 

"Of course you know," Annie Firmin wrote to me, "that Aunt 
Marie never liked Frances? Or Bentley?" Annie was the jgrl 
chosen by Gilbert's mother. She was very mucE a member of 
the family. 

"Did Gilbert ever speak to you," she wrote to me recently, "of 
the old Saturday night parties at Barnes, at the home of the 
grandparents every Saturday night the family, or as many of it 
as could, used to go down to Barnes to supper, and the Tx>ys' 
and Tom Gilbert, Alice Chesterton's husband, used to sing 
round the supper table. Many a one I went to when I was stay- 

* Autobiography, pp. 151-3. 

88 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

ing at Warwick Gardens. We used to go on a red Hammersmith 
bus, before the days of motor cars/' 

On a longer trip they stayed at Berck in Belgium, and Cecil 
had a strange idea, apparently regarded by him as humorous, 
which measures the family absence of a Christian sense at this 
date. "Cecil urged me to sit at the foot of the big Crucifix in the 
village street and let him photograph me as Mary Magdalen! 
I didrit, and I don't know how he thought he'd get away with 
the modern clothing/' 

* Whatever Gilbert's mother may have planned for thenv 
neither she nor Gilbert had any romantic feeling for each other. 
Indeed Cecil was definitely her favourite and she believed him 
the favourite of both parents also. "He had more heart," she 
says, "than the more brilliant Gilbert/' Anyhow, his heart was 
shown more openly to her, 

""Cecil was not much given to versifying," she wrote in another 
letter, "he sent me the enclosed when my son was born. I value 
it so much/' Headed "To Annie" the poem is a long one. It 
begins with the "ancient comradeship, loyal and unbroken" in 
which they had "first seen life together/' 

Shining nights, tumultuous days, 
Joy swift caught in sudden ways, 
All the laughter, love and praise, 
All the joys of living 

These we shared together dear, 

Plot and jest and story, 
This is hid, shut off, unknown, 
Seeing that to you alone 
Is the wondrous Kingdom shown 

And the power and Glory! 

Annie's thoughts, then, and Cecil's were not greatly on the 
elder brother, who was pursuing his own romance with a heart 
that seems to have been fairly adequate in its energies. 

Incipit Vita Nova 89 

Most mothers have watched their sons through one or more 
experiences of calf love: Gilbert indicates in the Autobiography 
and I knew it, too, from some jokes he and Frances used to 
make that he had had one or two fancies before the coining 
of Reality. He must then convince his mother that Reality had 
come: he must overcome a prejudice avowed by neither: he 
must call on the deeps of a mother's feelings so effectively that 
it would never now be avowed, that it might indeed be swept 

And so, sitting at a table in a seaside lodging, as his mother sat 
in the same room or moved about making cocoa for the family, 
Gilbert tried to express what even for him was the inexpressible. 

i Rosebery Villas 
Granville Road 

You may possibly think this a somewhat eccentric proceeding. 
You are sitting opposite and talking about Mrs. Berline. But I take 
this method of addressing you because it occurs to me that you might 
possibly wish to turn the matter over in your mind before writing or 
speaking to me about it. 

I am going to tell you the whole of a situation in which I believe 
I have acted rightly, though I am not absolutely certain, and to ask 
for your advice on it. It was a somewhat complicated one, and I 
repeat that I do not think I could rightly have acted otherwise, but 
if I were the greatest fool in the three kingdoms and had made 
nothing but a mess of it, there is one person I should always turn 
to and trust. Mothers know more of their son's idiocies than other 
people can, and this has been peculiarly true in your case. I have 
always rejoiced at this, and not been ashamed of it: this has always 
been true and always will be. These things are easier written than 
said, but you know it is true, don't you? 

I am inexpressibly anxious that you should give me credit for 
having done my best, and for having constantly had in mind the way 
in which you would be affected by the letter I am now writing. I 
do hope you will be pleased* 

About eight years ago, you made a remark-^this may stow you 

90 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

that if we "jeer" at your remarks, we remember them. The remark 
applied to the hypothetical young lady with whom I should fall in 
love and took the form of saying "If she is good, I shan't mind who 
she is." I don't know how many times I have said that over to myself 
in the last two or three days in which I have decided on this letter. 

Do not be frightened; or suppose that anything sensational or final 
has occurred* I am not married, my dear mother, neither am I en 
gaged* You are called to the council of chiefs very early in its 
deliberations. If you don't mind I will tell you, briefly, the whole 

You are, I think, the shrewdest person for seeing things whom I 
ever knew: consequently I imagine that you do not think that I go 
down to Bedford Park every Sunday for the sake of the scenery. I 
should not wonder if you know nearly as much about the matter as 
I can tell in a letter. Suffice it to say however briefly (for neither of 
us care much for gushing: this letter is not on Mrs. Ratcliffe lines) 
that the first half of my time of acquaintance with the Bloggs was 
spent in enjoying a very intimate, but quite breezy and Platonic 
friendship with Frances Blogg, reading, talking and enjoying life 
together, having great sympathies on all subjects; and the second half 
in making the thrilling, but painfully responsible discovery that 
Platonism, on my side, had not the field by any means to itself. 
That is how we stand now. No one knows, except her family and 

My dearest mother, I am sure you are at least not unsympathetic. 
Indeed we love each other more than we shall either of us ever be 
able to say. I have refrained from sentiment in this letter for I 
don't think you like it much. But love is a very different thing from 
sentiment and you will never laugh at that. I will not say that you 
are sure to like Frances, for all young men say that to their mothers, 
quite naturally, and their mothers never believe them, also, quite 
naturally. Besides, I am so confident, I should like you to find her 
out for yourself. She is, in reality, very much the sort of woman you 
like, what is called, I believe, "a Woman's Woman," very humorous, 
inconsequent and sympathetic and defiled with no offensive exuber 
ance of good health, 

I have nothing more to say, except that you and she have occu 
pied my mind for the last week to the exclusion of everything else, 
which must account for my abstraction, and that in her letter she 
sent the following message: "Please tell your mother soon. Tell her 

Inci'pit Vita Nova 91 

I am not so silly as to expect her to think me good enough, but 
really I will try to be/' 

An aspiration which, considered from my point of view, naturally 
provokes a smile. 

Here you give me a cup of cocoa. Thank you. 
Believe me, my dearest mother, 

Always your very affectionate son 


What exactly Gilbert meant by saying they were "not en 
gaged" it is hard to surmise, in view of Frances's message to her 
future mother-in-law. Of his sensations when proposing Gilbert 
gives some idea in the Autobiography: 

It was fortunate, however, that our next most important meeting 
was not under the sign of the moon but of the sun. She has often 
affirmed, during our later acquaintance, that if the sun had not been 
shining to her complete satisfaction on that day, the issue might have 
been quite different. It happened in St. James's Park; where they 
keep the ducks and the little bridge, which has been mentioned in 
no less authoritative a work than Mr. Belloc's Essay on Bridges, since 
I find myself quoting that author once more. I think he deals in 
some detail, in his best topographical manner, with various historic 
sites on the Continent; but later relapses into a larger manner, some 
what thus: 'The time has now come to talk at large about Bridges. 
The longest bridge in the world is the Forth Bridge, and the shortest 
bridge in the world is a plank over a ditch in the village of Loud- 
water. The bridge that frightens you most is the Brooklyn Bridge, 
and the bridge that frightens you least is the bridge in St. James's 
Park/' I admit that I crossed that bridge in undeserved safety; and 
perhaps I was affected by my early romantic vision of the bridge 
leading to the princess's tower. But I can assure my friend the author 
that the bridge in St. James's Park can frighten you a good deal.* 

Now, with Frances promised to him, Gilbert could enjoy 
everything properly, could execute, verbally at least, a wild fan 
tasia. Among the first of his friends to be written to was Mildred 
Wain, because, as he says in a later letter, he felt towards her 

* Autobiography, pp. 1 54-5. 

92 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

deep gratitude "for forming a topic of conversation on my first 
visit to a family with which I have since formed a dark and 
shameful connection." 


On rising this morning, I carefully washed iny boots in hot water 
and blacked my face. Then assuming my coat with graceful ease and 
with the tails in front, I descended to breakfast, where I gaily poured 
the coffee on the sardines and put my hat on the fire to boil These 
activities will give you some idea of my frame of mind. My family, 
observing me leave the house by way of the chimney, and take the 
fender with me under one arm, thought I must have something on 
my mind. So I had. 

My friend, I am engaged. I am only telling it at present to my 
real friends: but there is no doubt about it. The next question that 
arises is whom am I engaged to? I have investigated this problem 
with some care, and, as far as I can make out, the best authorities 
point to Frances Blogg, There can I think be no reasonable doubt 
that she is the lady. It is as well to have these minor matters clear 
in one's mind. 

I am very much too happy to write much; but I thought you might 
remember my existence sufficiently to be interested in the incident, 

Waldo has been of so much help to me in this and in everything, 
and I am so much interested in you for his sake and your own, that 
I am encouraged to hope our friendship may subsist* If ever I have 
done anything rude or silly, it was quite inadvertent I have always 
wished to please you, 

To Annie Firmin he wrote: 

I can only think of the day, oitfc- of the earliest I cam recall of my 
life, when you came in and helped me to build a house with bricks. 
I am building another one now, and it would not have been com 
plete without your going over it. 

To others he wrote such sentences as he could put together in 
the whirlwind of his happiness. For himself he stammered in a 
verse that grew with the years into his great love poetry. 

Indpit Vita Nova 93 

God made thee mightily, my love, 
He stretched his hands out of his rest 
And lit the star of east and west 
Brooding o'er darkness like a dove, 
God made thee mightily, my love. 

God made thee patiendy, my sweet, 
Out of all stars he chose a star 
He made it red with sunset har 
And green with greeting for thy feet. 
God made thee mightily, my sweet. 

To Frances 

THIS CHAPTER CAN be written only by Gilbert himself. It 
might seem that he had no words left for an emotion height 
ened beyond the love of his friends and the joyous acceptance of 
existence* But in these letters he shows the truth of his own the 
ory, that to love each thing separately strengthens the power of 
loving, to. have tried to love everyone is, as he tells Frances, no 
bad preparation for loving her. The emotion of falling in love 
had both intensified his appreciation of all things and cast for 
him a vivid light on past, present and future, so that in the last 
of these letters he sketches his life down to the moment when a 
new life begins. 

". . . I am looking over the sea and endeavouring to reckon 
up the estate I have to offer you. As far as I can make out my 
equipment for starting on a journey to fairyland consists of the 
following items. 

"ist A Straw Hat The oldest part of this admirable relic 
shows traces of pure Norman work. The vandalism of Cromwell's 
soldiers has left us little of the original hat-band. 

"and. A Walking Stick, very knobby, and heavy: admirably 
fitted to break the head of any denizen of Suffolk who denies that 
you are the noblest of ladies, but of no other manifest use, 

"3rd. A copy of Walt Whitman's poems, once nearly given to 
Salter, but quite forgotten. It has his name in it still with an 
affectionate inscription from his sincere friend Gilbert Chester 
ton. I wonder if he will ever have it, 


To Frances 95 

"4th. A number of letters from a young lady, containing 
everything good and generous and loyal and holy and wise that 
isn't in Walt Whitman's poems. 

"5th. An unwieldy sort of a pocket knife, the blades mostly 
having an edge of a more varied and picturesque outline than 
is provided by the prosaic cutler. The chief element however is 
a thing 'to take stones out of a horse's hoof/ What a beautiful 
sensation of security it gives one to reflect that if one should 
ever have money enough to buy a horse and should happen to 
buy one and the horse should happen to have a stone in his 
hoof that one is ready; one stands prepared, with a defiant 

"6th. Passing from the last miracle of practical foresight, we 
come to a box of matches. Every now and then I strike one of 
these, because fire is beautiful and burns your fingers. Some 
people think this waste of matches: the same people who object 
to the building of Cathedrals. 

"yth. About three pounds in gold and silver, the remains of 
one of Mr. Unwin's bursts of affection: those explosions of 
spontaneous love for myself, which, such is the perfect order 
and harmony of his mind, occur at startlingly exact intervals of 

"8th. A book of Children's Rhymes, in manuscript, called the 
Weather Book' about 4 finished, and destined for Mr, Nutt.* I 
have been working at it fairly steadily, which I think jolly credit 
able under the circumstances. One can't put anything interest 
ing in it. They'll understand those things when they grow up. 

"9th. A tennis racket nay, start not. It is a part of the new 
regime, and the only new and neat-looking thing in the Mu 
seum. We'll soon mellow it like the straw hat. My brother and 
I are teaching each other lawn tennis. 

"loth. A soul, hitherto idle and omnivorous but now happy 
enough to be ashamed of itself. 

* Greybeards at Play. 

96 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

"nth* A body, equally idle and quite equally omnivorous, 
absorbing tea, coffee, claret, sea-water and oxygen to its own 
perfect satisfaction. It is happiest swimming, I think, the sea 
being about a convenient size* 

"lath* A Heart mislaid somewhere. And that is about all 
the property of which an inventory can be made at present. 
After all, my tastes are stoically simple. A straw hat, a stick, a 
box of matches and some of his own poetry. What more does 
man require? . . /' 

w . . * The City of Felixstowe, as seen by the local prophet 
from the neighbouring mountain-peak, does not strike the eye as 
having anything uncanny about it. At least I imagine that it 
requires rather careful scrutiny before the eerie curl of a chim 
ney pot, or the elfin wink of a lonely lamp-post brings home to 
the startled soul that it is really the City of a Fearful Folk. That 
the inhabitants are not human in the ordinary sense is quite 
clear, yet it has only just begun to dawn on me after staying 
a week in the Town of Unreason with its monstrous landscape 
and grave, unmeaning customs. Do I seem to be raving? Let me 
give my experiences. 

"I am bound to admit that I do not think I am good at shop 
ping. I generally succeed in getting rid of money, but other 
observances, such as bringing away the goods that IVe paid for, 
and knowing what IVe bought, I often pass over as secondary. 
But to shop in a town of ordinary tradesmen is one thing: to 
shop in a town of raving lunatics is another* I set out one morn 
ing, happy and hopeful with the intention of buying (a) a ten 
nis racket (b) some tennis balls (c) some tennis shoes (d) a 
ticket for a tennis ground. I went to the shop pointed out by 
some villager (probably mad) and went in and said I believed 
they kept tennis rackets. The young man smiled and assented. I 
suggested that he might show me some. The young man looked 
positively alarmed. 'Oh/ he said, We haven't got any not got 

To Frances 97 

any here/ I asked Where?' 'Oh, they're out you know. All 
round/ he explained wildly, with a graphic gesture in the direc 
tion of the sea and the sky. 'All out round. We've left them all 
round at places.' To this day I don't know what he meant, but 
I merely asked when they would quit these weird retreats. He 
said in an hour: in an hour I called again. Were they in now? 
Well not in not in, just yet/ he said with a sort of feverish 
confidentialness, as if he wasn't quite well. 'Are they still all - 
out at places?' I asked with restrained humour. 'Oh no!' he said 
with a burst of reassuring pride. 'They are only out there out 
behind, you know/ I hope my face expressed my beaming com 
prehension of the spot alluded to. Eventually, at a third visit, the 
rackets were produced. None of them, I was told by my brother, 
were of any first-class maker, so that was outside the question. 
The choice was between some good, neat first-hand instruments 
which suited me, and some seedy-looking second-hand objects 
with plain deal handles, which would have done at a pinch. I 
thought that perhaps it would be better to get a good-class 
racket in London and content myself for the present with econ 
omising on one of these second-hand monuments of depression. 
So I asked the price. '10/6' was the price of the second-hand 
article. I thought this large for the tool, and wondered if the 
first-hand rackets were much dearer. What price the first-hand? 
'7/6* said the Creature, cheery as a bird. I did not faint. I am 

"I rejected the article which was dearer because it had been 
hallowed by human possession, and acceptedi the cheap, new 
crude racket. Except the newness there was no diff efefsc^ be 
tween them whatever. I then asked the smiling Maniac for 
balls. He brought me a selection of large red globes nearly as big 
as Dutch cheeses. I said, 'Are these tennis-balls?' He said, 'Oh 
did you want tennis-balls?' I said Yes they often came in handy 
at tennis. The goblin was however quite impervious to ,Hrp. 
and I left him endeavouring to draw my attention to his wires 

98 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

in general, particularly to some zinc baths which he seemed to 
think should form part of the equipment of a tennis-player. 

"Never before or since have I met a being of that order and 
degree of creepiness. He was a nightmare of unmeaning idiocy. 
But some mention ought to be made of the old man at the 
entrance to the tennis ground who opened his mouth in parables 
on the subject of the fee for playing there. He seemed to have 
been wound up to make only one remark, It's sixpence/ Under 
these circumstances the attempt to discover whether the sixpence 
covered a day's tennis or a week or fifty years was rather baffling. 
At last I put down the sixpence. This seemed to galvanise him 
into life. He looked at the clock, which was indicating five past 
eleven and said, It's sixpence an hour so youll be all right till 
two/ I fled screaming. 

"Since then I have examined the town more carefully and 
feel the presence of something nameless. There is a claw-curl 
in the sea-bent trees, an eye-gleam in the dark flints in the wall 
that is not of this world. 

"When we set up a house, darling (honeysuckle porch, yew 
dipt hedge, bees, poetry and eight shillings a week), I think you 
will have to do the shopping. Particularly at Felixstowe. There 
was a great and glorious man who said, 'Give us the luxuries 
of life and we will dispense with the necessities/ That I think 
would be a splendid motto to write (in letters of brown gold) 
over the porch of our hypothetical home. There will be a sofa 
for you, for example, but no chairs, for I prefer the floor. There 
will be a select store of chocolate-creams (to make you do the 
Carp with) and the rest will be bread and water. We will each 
retain a suit of evening dress for great occasions, and at other 
times clothe ourselves in the skins of wild beasts (how pretty 
you would look) which would fit your taste in furs and be 

"I have sometimes thought it would be very fine to take an 
ordinary house, a very poor, commonplace house in West Ken- 

To Frances 99 

sington, say, and make it symbolic. Not artistic Heaven O 
Heaven forbid. My blood boils when I think of the affronts put 
by knock-kneed pictorial epicures on the strong, honest, ugly, 
patient shapes of necessary things: the brave old bones of life. 
There are aesthetic pottering prigs who can look on a saucepan 
without one tear of joy or sadness: mongrel decadents that can 
see no dignity in the honourable scars of a kettle. So they con 
centrate all their house decoration on coloured windows that 
nobody looks out of, and vases of lilies that everybody wishes 
out of the way. No: my idea (which is much cheaper) is to 
make a house really allegoric: really explain its own essential 
meaning. Mystical or ancient sayings should be inscribed on 
every object, the more prosaic the object the better; and the 
more coarsely and rudely the inscription was traced the better. 
'Hast thou sent the Rain upon the Earth?* should be inscribed 
on the Umbrella-Stand: perhaps on the Umbrella. 'Even the 
Hairs of your Head are all numbered' would give a tremendous 
significance to one's hairbrushes: the words about living water' 
would reveal the music and sanctity of the sink: while 'Our God 
is a consuming Fire* might be written over the kitchen-grate, to 
assist the mystic musings of the cook Shall we ever try that 
experiment, dearest. Perhaps not, for no words would be golden 
enough for the tools you had to touch: you would be beauty 
enough for one house. . . ." 

". . . By all means let us have bad things in our dwelling 
and make them good things. I shall offer no objection to your 
having an occasional dragon to dinner, or a penitent Griffin to 
sleep in the spare bed. The image of you taking a Sunday school 
of little Devils is pleasing. They will look up, first in savage 
wonder, then in vague respect; they will see the most glorious 
and noble lady that ever lived since their prince tempted Eve, 
with a halo of hair and great heavenly eyes that seem to make the 
good at the heart of things almost too terribly simple and naked 

ioo Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

for the sons of flesh : and as they gaze, their tails will drop off, 
and their wings will sprout: and they will become Angels in 
six lessons* . . 

"I cannot profess to offer any elaborate explanation of your 
mother's disquiet but I admit it does not wholly surprise me. 
You see I happen to know one factor in the case, and one only, 
of which you are wholly ignorant. I know you ... I know one 
thing which has made me feel strange before your mother I 
know the value of what I take away. I feel (in a weird moment) 
like the Angel of Death. 

"You say you want to talk to me about death: my views about 
death are bright, brisk and entertaining. When Azrael takes a 
soul it may be to other and brighter worlds: like those whither 
you and I go together. The transformation called Death may 
be something as beautiful and dazzling as the transformation 
called Love. It may make the dead man 'happy/ just as your 
mother knows that you are happy. But none the less it is a 
transformation, and sad sometimes for those left behind. A 
mother whose child is dying can hardly believe that in the in 
scrutable Unknown there is anyone who can look to it as well 
as she. And if a mother cannot trust her child easily to God 
Almighty, shall I be so mean as to be angry because she can 
not trust it easily to me? I tell you I have stood before your 
mother and felt like a thief* I know you are not going to part: 
neither physically, mentally, morally nor spiritually. But she sees 
a new element in your life, wholly from outside is it not natural, 
given her temperament, that you should find her perturbed? 
Oh, dearest, dearest Frances, let us always be very gentle to 
older people. Indeed, darling, it is not they who are the tyrants, 
but we. They may interrupt our building in the scaffolding 
stages: we turn their house upside down when it is their final 
home and rest. Your mother would certainly have worried if 
you had been engaged to the Archangel Michael (who, indeed, 
is bearing his disappointment very well) : how much more when 

To Frances 101 

you are engaged to an aimless, tactless, reckless, unbrushed, 
strange-hatted, opinionated scarecrow who has suddenly walked 
into the vacant place. I could have prophesied her unrest: wait 
and she will calm down all right, dear. God comfort her: I 
dare not. . . /' 

". . . Gilbert 'Keith Chesterton was horn of comfortable but 
honest parents on the top of Campden Hill, Kensington. He 
was christened at St. George's Church which stands just under 
that more imposing building, the Waterworks Tower. This 
place was chosen, apparently, in order that the whole available 
water supply might be used in the intrepid attempt to make him 
a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the 
Kingdom of Heaven. 

"Of the early years of this remarkable man few traces remain. 
One of his earliest recorded observations was the simple exclama 
tion, full of heart-felt delight, 'Look at Baby. Funny Baby/ Here 
we see the first hint of that ineffable conversational modesty, that 
shy social self-effacement, which has ever hidden his light under 
a bushel. His mother also recounts with apparent amusement an 
incident connected with his imperious demand for his father's 
top-hat. 'Give me that hat, please/ 'No, dear, you mustn't have 
that/ 'Give me that hat/ 'No, dear' 'If you don't give it me, 
111 say 'At/ An exquisite selection in the matter of hats has 
indeed always been one of the great man's hobbies. 

"When he had drawn pictures on all the blinds and table 
cloths and towels and walls and windowpanes it was felt that 
he required a larger sphere. Consequently he was sent to Mr. 
Bewsher who gave him desks and copy-books and Latin gram 
mars and atlases to draw pictures on. He was far too innately con 
scientious not to use these materials to draw on. To other uses, 
asserted by some to belong to these objects, he paid little heed. 
The only really curious thing about his school life was that he 
had a weird and quite involuntary habit of getting French prizes. 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

They were the only ones he ever got and he never tried to get 
them. But though the thing was quite mysterious to hirn ? and 
though he made every effort to avoid it, it went on, being evi 
dently a part of some occult natural law. 

"For the first half of his time at school he was very solitary 
and futile. He never regretted the time, for it gave him two 
things, complete mental self-sufficiency and a comprehension of 
the psychology of outcasts. 

"But one day, as he was roaming about a great naked building 
land which he haunted in play hours, rather like an outlaw in 
the woods, he met a curious agile youth with hair brushed up off 
his head. Seeing each other, they promptly hit each other simul 
taneously and had a fight. Next day they met again and fought 
again. These Homeric conflicts went on for many days, till one 
morning in the crisis of some insane grapple, the subject of this 
biography quoted, like a war-chant, something out of Macaulay's 
Lays. The other started and relaxed his hold. They gazed at 
each other. Then the foe quoted the following line. In this land 
of savages they knew each other, For the next two hours they 
talked books. They have talked books ever since. The boy was 
Edmund Clerihew Bentley. The incident just narrated is the 
true and real account of the first and deepest of our hero's male 
connections. But another was to ensue, probably equally pro 
found and far more pregnant with awful and dazzling conse 
quences. Bentley always had a habit of trying to do things well: 
twelve years of the other's friendship has not cured him of this. 
Being seized with a peculiar desire to learn conjuring, he had 
made the acquaintance of an eerie and supernatural young man, 
who instructed him in the Black Art: a gaunt Mephistophelean 
sort of individual, who our subject half thought was a change 
ling. Our subject has not quite got over the idea yet, though for 
practical social purposes he calls him Lucian Oldershaw. Our 
subject met Lucian Oldershaw. That night/ as Shakespeare 
says, 'there was a star/ 

To Frances 103 

"These three persons soon became known through the length 
and breadth of St. Paul's School as the founders of a singular 
brotherhood. It was called the J.D.G No one, we believe, could 
ever have had better friends than did the hero of this narrative. 
We wish that we could bring before the reader the personality 
of all the Knights of that eccentric round table. Most of them 
are known already to the reader. Even the subject himself is 
possibly known to the reader. Bertram, who seemed somehow to 
have been painted by Vandyck, a sombre and stately young man, 
a blend of Cavalier and Puritan, with the physique of a mili 
tary father and the views of an ethical mother and a soul of his 
own which for sheer simplicity is something staggering. Vernde 
with an Oriental and inscrutable placidity varied every now and 
then with dazzling agility and Meredithian humour. Waldo 
d'Avigdor who masks with complete fashionable triviality a 
Hebraic immutability of passion tried in a more ironical and 
bitter service than his Father Jacob. Lawrence and Maurice 
Solomon, who show another side of the same people, the love 
of home, the love of children, the meek and malicious humour, 
the tranquil service of a law. Salter who shows how beautiful 
and ridiculous a combination can be made of the most elaborate 
mental cultivation and artistic sensibility and omniscience with 
a receptiveness and a humility extraordinary in any man. These 
were his friends. May he be forgiven for speaking of them at 
length and with pride? Some day we hope the reader may 
know them all. He knew these people; he knew their friends. 
He heard Mildred Wain say 'Blogg' and he thought it was a 
funny name. Had he been told that he would ever pronounce 
it with the accents of tears and passion he would have said, in 
his pride, that the name was not suitable for that purpose. But 
there are OIJH cp' f|juv. . . . 

"He went for a time to an Art School. There he met a great 
many curious people. Many of the men were horrible black 
guards: he was not exactly that: so they naturally found each 

104 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

other interesting. He went through some rather appalling dis 
coveries about human life and the final discovery was that there 
is no Devil no, not even such a thing as a bad man. 

"One pleasant Saturday afternoon Lucian said to him, 'I am 
going to take you to see the Bloggs/ 'The whatX said the un 
happy man. The Bloggs/ said the other, darkly. Naturally 
assuming that it was the name of a public-house he reluctantly 
followed his friend. He came to a small front-garden; if it was 
a public-house it was not a businesslike one. They raised the 
latch they rang the bell (if the bell was not in the close time 
just then). No flower in the pots winked. No brick grinned. No 
sign in Heaven or earth warned him. The birds sang on in the 
trees. He went in, 

"The first time he spent an evening at the Bloggs there was 
no one there, That is to say there was a worn but fiery little 
lady in a grey dress who didn't approve of 'catastrophic solutions 
of social problems/ That, he understood, was Mrs. Blogg. There 
was a long, blonde, smiling young person who seemed to think 
him quite off his head and who was addressed as Ethel. There 
were two people whose meaning and status he couldn't imagine, 
one of whom had a big nose and the other hadn't. . . , Lastly, 
there was a Juno-like creature in a tremendous hat who eyed 
him all the time half wildly, like a shying horse, because he said 
he was quite happy. , . . 

"But the second time he went there he was plumped down 
on a sofa beside a being of whom he had a vague impression 
that brown hair grew at intervals all down her like a caterpillar. 
Once in the course of conversation she looked straight at him 
and he said to himself as plainly as if he had read it in a book: 
'If I had anything to do with this girl I should go on my knees 
to her: if I spoke with her she would never deceive me: if I 
depended on her she' would never deny me; if I loved her she 
would never play with me: if I trusted her she would never go 
back on me: if I remembered her she would never forget me, I 

To Frances 105 

may never see her again. Goodbye/ It was all said in a flash: but 
it was* all said. . . . 

"Two years, as they say in the playbills, is supposed to elapse. 
And here is the subject of this memoir sitting on a balcony 
above the sea. The time, evening. He is thinking of the whole 
bewildering record of which the foregoing is a brief outline: he 
sees how far he has gone wrong and how idle and wasteful and 
wicked he has often been: how miserably unfitted he is for what 
he is called upon to be. Let him now declare it and hereafter 
for ever hold his peace. 

"But there are four lamps of thanksgiving always before him. 
The first is for his creation out of the same earth with such a 
woman as you. The second is that he has not, with all his faults, 
'oone after strange women/ You cannot think how a man's self- 
restraint is rewarded in this. The third is that he has tried to 
love everything alive: a dim preparation for loving you. And the 
fourth is but no words can express that. Here ends my previous 
existence. Take it: it led me to you/' 

A Long En 

GILBERT SYMPATHISED WITH his future mother-in-law's anx 
iety at Frances's engagement to "a self-opinionated scare 
crow," but I doubt if it at all quickly occurred to him that the 
basis of that anxiety was the fact that he was earning only 
twenty-five shillings a week! Frances herself, Lucian Oldershaw, 
and the rest of his friends believed he was a genius with a great 
future and this belief they tried to communicate to Frances's 
family. But even if they succeeded, faith in the future did not 
pay dividends in a present income on which to set up house, 
A widow, considering her daughter's future, might well feel a 
little anxiety. But one can see wheels within wheels of family 
conclaves and matters to perplex the simple which drew another 
letter from Gilbert to Frances: 

* * . It is a mystic and refreshing thought that I shall never under 
stand Bloggs. 

That is the truth of it . , * that this remarkable family atmos 
phere . . . this temperament with its changing moods and its ever 
lasting will, its divine trust in one's soul and its tremulous specula 
tions as to one's "future/' its sensitiveness like a tempered sword, 
vibrating but never broken: its patience that can wait for Eternity 
and its impatience that cannot wait for tea: its power of bearing 
huge calamities, and its queer little moods that even those calamities 
can never overshadow or wipe out: its brusqueness that always 
pleases and its over-tactfulness that sometimes wounds: its terrific 
intensity of feeling, that sometimes paralyses the outsider with con 
versational responsibility: its untranslatable humour of courage and 

1 06 

A Long Engagement 107 

poverty and its unfathomed epics of past tragedy and triumph all 
this glorious confusion of family traits, which, in no exaggerative 
sense, make the Gentiles come to your light and the folk of the 
nations to the brightness of your house is a thing so utterly outside 
my own temperament that I was formed by nature to admire and not 
understand it. God made me very simply as he made a tree or a pig 
or an oyster: to perform certain functions. The best thing he gave 
me was a perfect and unshakable trust in those I love. . , . 

Gilbert's sympathy with his future mother-in-law may have 

been put to some slight sttain related, by Lwzim 

Oldershaw. Mrs. Blogg begged him to talk to Gilbert about his 

personal appearance clothes and such matters and to entreat 

him to make an effort to improve it. One can imagine how inuch^ 

he must have disliked the commission! AnyTTow" he decided it" 

would be better to do it away from home and lie suggested to 

Gilbert a trip to the seaside. Arrived there he hroacKed tKe 

subject. Gilbert, he says, was not the ka'st Engryrbtit answered 

juite seriously that Frances loved "KffiTMLSi - I^^^iiE&! : J^ 

A/ould be absurd for him to try to alt^ JtLms^s!^ 


'A man's friends like hiiJ^utjJ^ 
wife loves him and is always tryingjq ^^^^^^^^ 

A good many things happened in the course of this long 
engagement. Frances and Gilbert were both young and long 
engagements were normal at that period, when the idea of a 
wife continuing to earn after marriage was unheard of. There 
were obvious disadvantages in the long delay before marriage 
but also certain advantages. The two got to know each other with 
a close intimacy: they were comrades as well as lovers and carried 
both these relationships into married life. For the biographer 
the advantage has been immense, since every separation between 
the pair meant a batch of letters. The discerning will have noted 
that there are in these letters considerable excisions: parts 
Frances would not show even to the biographer. But they are 

io8 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

the richest quarry from which to dig for the most important 
period of any man's life: the period richest in mental develop 
ment and the shaping of character. It is, too, the only period 
of his adult life when Gilbert wrote letters at all, unless they 
were absolutely unavoidable. 

mall j&mily two members will tend to draw to 

gether more closely than the rest, and this was so with Frances 
and her sister Gertrude. They adored one another and Frances 
offered her to Gilbert as a sister, with especially confident pride. 
He had never had a sister since babyhood and he enjoyed it. 
The happiness of the engagement was terribly broken into by 
^the sudden death of Gertrude in a street accident, Frances was 
absolutely shattered. The next group of letters belongs to the 
months after Gertrude's death, when Gilbert was still trying to 
be a publisher, but, urged on by Frances, beginning also to be 
a writer, During part of this time she had gone abroad for rest 
and recovery after the shock. Gilbert pictures her reading his 
letters "under the shadow of an alien cathedral/* 

None of these letters are dated but most of them have kept 
their postmarks. 

n, Paternoster Buildings 
(postmarked July 8, 1899) 

. . . I am black but comely at this moment; because the cyclostyle 
has blacked me* Fear not. I shall wash myself. But I think it my 
duty to render an accurate account of my physical appearance every 
time I write: and shall be glad of any advice and assistance. , , , 

I have been reading Lewis Carroll's remains, mostly Logic, and 
have much pleasure in enlivening you with the following hilarious 
query: "Can a Hypothetical, whose protasis is false, be legitimate? 
Are two Hypotheticals of the forms, If A> then B, and If A then not 
B compatible?" I should think a Hypothetical could be, if it tried 
hard* * . * 

To return to the Cyclostyle. I like the Cyclostyle ink; it is so inky. 
I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure 
in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water 
excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, 

A Long Engagement 109 

the unutterable muddiness of mud. It is just the same with people. 
. . . When we call a man "manly" or a woman "womanly" we 
touch the deepest philosophy. 

I will not ask you to forgive this rambling levity. I, for one have 
sworn, I do not hesitate to say it, by the sword of God that has struck 
us, and before the beautiful face of the dead, that the first joke that 
occurred to me I would make, the first nonsense poem I thought of I 
would write, that I would begin again at once with a heavy heart at 
times, as to other duties, to the duty of being perfectly silly, per 
fectly extravagant, perfectly trivial, and as far as possible, amusing. 
I have sworn that Gertrude should not feel, wherever she is, that 
the comedy has gone out of our theatre. This, I am well aware, will 
be misunderstood. But I have long grasped that whatever we do we 
are misunderstood small blame to other people; for, we know our 
selves, our best motives are things we could neither explain nor de 
fend. And I would rather hurt those who can shout than her who is 

You might tell me what you feel about this: but I am myself 
absolutely convinced that gaiety that is the bubble of love, does not 
annoy me: the old round of stories, laughter, family ceremonies, 
seems to me far less really inappropriate than a single moment of 
forced silence or unmanly shame. . . . 

I Lave always imagined Frances did not know of her mother's 
efforts to tidy Gilbert, but very early in their engagement she 
began her own abortive attempts to make him brush his hair, tie 
his tie straight and avoid made-up ones, attend to the buttons 
on his coat, and all the rest. It would seem that for a time at 
any rate he made some efforts, but evidently simply regarded 
the whole thing as one huge joke. 

ii Warwick Gardens 
(Postmarked July 9th, 1899) 

... I am clean. I am wearing a frockcoat, which from a super 
ficial survey seems to have no end of buttons. It must be admitted 
that I am wearing a bow-tie: but on careful research I find that these 
were constantly worn by Vikings. A distinct allusion to them is made 
in that fine fragment, the Tryggvhessa Saga, where the poet says, in 
the short alliterative lines of Early Norse poetry: 

no Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Frockcoat Folding then 
Hakon Hardrada 
Bow-tie Buckled 
Waited for war 

(Brit. Mus. Mss. CCCLXIX lines 99981-99985) 

I resume. My appearance, as I have suggested, is singularly ex 
emplary. My boots are placed, after the fastidious London fashior 
on the feet: the laces are done up, the watch is going, the hair i 
brushed, the sleeve-links are inserted, for of such is the Kingdom o 
Heaven. As for my straw hat, I put it on eighteen times consec 
utively, taking a run and a jump to each try, till at last I hit th 
right angle. I have not taken it off for three days and nights lest 
should disturb that exquisite pose, Ladies, princes, queens, eccles 
astical processions go by in vain: I do not remove it. That angle c 
the hat is something to mount guard over. As Swinburne says "Nc 
twice on earth do the gods do this." 

It is at present what is, I believe, called a lovely summer's nigh 
To say that it is hot would be as feeble a platitude as the same r< 
mark would be in the small talk of Satan and Beelzebub. 

If there were such a thing as Hue-hot iron, it would describe tt 
sky tonight. I cannot help dreaming of some wild fairy-tale in whic 
the whole round cosmos should be a boiling pot, with the flames < 
Purgatory under it, and that soon I shall have the satisfaction 
seeing such a thing as boiled mountains, boiled cities, and a boile 
moon and stars. A tremendous picture. Yet I am perfectly happy 
usual. After all, why should we object to be boiled*? Potatoes, f 
example, are better boiled than raw why should we fear to be boil< 
into new shapes in the cauldron? These things are an allegory. 

. . . I am so glad to hear you say . . , that, in your own wor 
"it is good for us to be here" where you are at present* The sar 
remark, if I remember right, was made on the mountain of t 1 
Transfiguration. It has always been one of my unclerical sermons 
myself, that that remark which Peter made on seeing the vision ol 
single hour, ought to be made by us all, in contemplating eve 
panoramic change in the long Vision we call lifeother things sup 
ficially, but this always in our depths. "It is good for us to be her 
it is good for us to be here/' repeating itself eternally. And if, af 
many joys and festivals and frivolities, it should be our fate to he 

A Long Engagement in 

to look on while one of us is, in a most awful sense of the words, 
"transfigured before our eyes": shining with the whiteness of death 
at least, I think, we cannot easily fancy ourselves wishing not to he 
at our post. Not I, certainly. It was good for me to be there. 

it Warwick Gardens 
(postmarked July n, 1899.) 

. . . The novel, after which you so kindly enquire, is proceeding 
headlong. It received another indirect stimulus today, when Mr* 
Garnett insisted on taking me out to lunch, gave me a gorgeous re 
past at a restaurant, succeeded in plucking the secret of my private 
employment from my bosom, and made me promise to send him 
some chapters of it. I certainly cannot complain of not being sym 
pathetically treated by the literary men I know. I wonder where the 
jealous, spiteful, depreciating man of letters we read of in books has 
got to. It's about time he turned up, I think. Excuse me for talking 
about these trivialities. . . . 

I have made a discovery: or I should say seen a vision. I saw it 
between two cups of black coffee in a Gallic restaurant in Soho: but 
I could not express it if I tried. 

But this was one thing that it said that all good things are one 
thing. There is no conflict between the gravestone of Gertrude and 
a comic-opera tune played by Mildred Wain. But there is ever 
lasting conflict between the gravestone of Gertrude and the obscene 
pomposity of the hired mute: and there is everlasting conflict be 
tween the comic-opera tune and any mean or vulgar words to which 
it may be set. These, which man hath joined together, God shall 
most surely sunder. That is what I am feeling . . , now every hour 
of the day. All good things are one thing. Sunsets, schools of philos 
ophy, babies, constellations, cathedrals, operas, mountains, horses, 
poems all these are merely disguises. One thing is always walking 
among us in fancy-dress, in the grey cloak of a church or the green 
cloak of a meadow. He is always behind, His form makes the folds 
fall so superbly. And that is what the savage old Hebrews, alone 
among the nations, guessed, and why their rude tribal god has been 
erected on the ruins of all polytheistic civilisations. For the Greeks 
and Norsemen and Romans saw the superficial wars of nature and 

**a Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

made the sun one god, the sea another, the wind a third. They were 
not thrilled, as some rude Israelite was, one night in the wastes, 
alone, by the sudden blazing idea of all being the same God: an 
idea worthy of a detective story. 

n, Paternoster Buildings 
(postmarked July 14, 1899.) 

* . * costume slightly improved. The truth is that a mystical and 
fantastic development has taken place* My clothes have rebelled 
against me. Weary of scorn and neglect, they have all suddenly come 
to life and they dress me by force every morning. My frockcoat 
leaps upon me like a lion and hangs on, dragging me down. As I 
struggle my boots trip me up and the laces climb up my feet (never 
missing a hole) like snakes or creepers. At the same moment the 
celebrated grey tie springs at my throat like a wild cat. 

I am told that the general effects produced by this remarkable 
psychical development are superb. Really the clothes must know 
best. Still it is awkward when a mackintosh pursues one down the 
street* * . 

* . There is nothing in God's earth that really expresses the 
bottom of the nature of a man in love except Burns' songs. To the 
man not in love they must seem inexplicably simple. When he says, 
"My love is like the melody that's sweetly played in tune," it seems 
almost a crude way of referring to music. But a man in love with a 
woman feels a nerve move suddenly that Dante groped for and 
Shakespeare hardly touched, What made me think of Burns, how 
ever, was that one of his simple and sudden things, hitting the right 
nail so that it rings, occurs in the song of "O a* the airts the wind can 
blaw," where he merely says that there is nothing beautiful any 
where but it makes him think of the woman. That is not really a 
mere aesthetic fancy, a chain of sentimental associationit is an 
actual instinctive elemental movement of the mind, performed auto 
matically and instantly. . . . 

Felixstowe (undated) 

* * I have as you see, arrived here. I have done other daring 
things, such as having my hair shampooed, as you commanded, and 
also cut. The effect of this is so singularly horrible that I have found 
further existence in London impossible. Public opinion is too strong 
for me. . . There are many other reasons I could give for being 

A Long Engagement 113 

pleased to come: such as that I have some time for writing the novel; 
that I can make up stories I don't intend to write . . . that there 
are phosphorescent colours on the sea and a box of cigarettes on the 
mantelpiece. : 

Some fragments of what I felt [about Gertrude's death] have strug 
gled out in the form of some verses which I am writing out for you. 
But for real strength (I don't like the word "comfort") for real peace, 
no human words are much good except perhaps some of the un 
fathomable, unintelligible, unconquerable epigrams of the Bible. I 
remember when Bentley had a burning boyish admiration for Pro 
fessor Huxley, and when that scientist died some foolish friend 
asked him quite flippantly in a letter what he felt about it. Bentley 
replied with the chapter and verse reference to one of the Psalms, 
alone on a postcard. The text was, "Precious in the sight of the Lord 
is the death of one of his saints/' The friend, I remember, thought 
it "a curious remark about Huxley." It strikes me as a miraculous 
remark about anybody. It is one of those magic sayings where every 
word hits a chain of association, God knows how. 

"Precious" we could not say that Gertrude's death is happy or 
providential or sweet or even perhaps good. But it is something. 
"Beautiful" is a good word but "precious" is the only right word. 

It is this passionate sense of the value of things: of the richness 
of the cosmic treasure: the world where every star is a diamond, 
every leaf an emerald, every drop of blood a ruby, it is this sense of 
preciousness that is really awakened by the death of His saints. 
Somehow we feel that even their death is a thing of incalculable 
value and mysterious sweetness: it is awful, tragic, desolating, desper 
ately hard to bear but still "precious." , . . Forgive the verbosity 
of one whose trade it is to express the inexpressible. 

The verses he speaks of in this letter, Frances treasured 
greatly. She showed them to me, in a book which opens with a 
very touching prayer in her own writing. In a later chapter I 
quote the lines in which Gilbert writes of his own tone-deafness, 
and of how he saw what music meant as he watched his wife's 
face. Something of the same effect is produced on me by these 
verses. Gilbert was not of course tone-deaf to this tragedy, yet 
it was chiefly in its effect on Frances that it affected him. 

114 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

The sudden sorrow smote my love 
That often falls twixt kiss and kiss 
And looking forth awhile she said 
Can no man tell me where she is. 

And again 

Stricken they sat: and through them moved 
My own dear lady, pale and sweet. 

This soul whose clearness makes afraid 
Our souls: this wholly guiltless one 
No cobweb doubts no passion smoke 
Have veiled this mirror from Thy sun* 

In letters to Frances he could enter so deeply into her grief as 
to make it his own. But when he wrote verse and spoke as it 
were to himself or to God, the reflected emotion was not enough. 
These verses could never rank with his real poetry. 

It was not possible in fact for a man so happily in love to 
dwell lastingly on any sorrow. And I cannot avoid the feeling 
that, quite apart from any theory, cheerfulness was constantly 
"breaking in." For Gilbert was a very happy man. Across the 
top of one of his letters is written: "You can always tell the real 
love from the slight by the fact that the latter weakens at the 
moment of success; the former is quadrupled/' 

The next of his letters is a mingling of the comic and the 
fantastic, very special to G.K.C, 

n, Paternoster Buildings 
(postmarked Sept. 29, 1899.) 

. , , I fear, as you say, that my letters do not contain many prac 
tical details about myself: the letters are not very long to begin with, 
as I think it better to write something every day than a long letter 
when I have leisure: and when I have a little time to think in, I 
always think of the Kosmos first and the Ego afterwards, I admit, 
owever, that you are not engaged to the Kosmos: dear me! what 
time the Kosmos would have! All its Comets would have their hair 

A Long Engagement 115 

brushed every morning. The Whirlwind would be adjured not to 
walk about when it was talking. The Oceans would be wanned with 
hot-water pipes. Not even the lowest forms of life would escape the 
crusade of tidiness: you would walk round and round the jellyfish, 
looking for a place to put in shirt-links. 

Under these circumstances, then, I cannot but regard it as for 
tunate that you are only engaged to your obedient Microcosm: a 
biped inheriting some of the traits of his mother, the Kosmos, its 
untidiness, its largeness, its irritating imperfection and its profound 
and hearty intention to go on existing as long as it possibly can. 

I can understand what you mean about wanting details about me, 
for I want just the same about you. You need only tell me "I went 
down the street to a pillar-box/' I shall know that you did it in a 
manner, blindingly, staggeringly, crazily beautiful. It is quite true, 
as you say, that I am a person wearing certain clothes with a certain 
kind of hair. I cannot get rid of the impression that there is some 
thing scorchingly sarcastic about the underlining in this pas 
sage. . . . 

... as to what I do every day: it depends on which way you 
want it narrated: what we all say it is, or what it really is. 

What we all say happens every day is this: I wake up: dress my 
self, eat bacon and bread and coffee for breakfast: walk up to High St. 
Station, take a fourpenny ticket for Blackfriars, read the Chronicle 
in the train, arrive at n, Paternoster Buildings: read a MS called 
"The Lepers" (light comedy reading) and another called "The Prep 
aration of Ryerson Embury" you know the style till 2, o'clock. Go 
out to lunch, have (but here perhaps it would be safer to become 
vague), come back, work till six, take my hat and walking-stick and 
come home: have dinner at home, write the Novel till 1 1, then write 
to you and go to bed. That is what, we in our dreamy, deluded way, 
really imagine is the thing that happens. What really happens (but 
hist! are we observed?) is as follows. 

Out of the starless night of the Uncreated, that was before the 
stars, a soul begins to grope back to light. It gropes its way through 
strange, half-lighted chambers of Dreams, where in a brown and gold 
twilight, it sees many things that are dimly significant, true stories 
twisted into new and amazing shapes, human beings whom it knew 
long ago, sitting at the windows by dark sunsets, or talking in dim 
meadows. But the awful invading Light grows stronger in the 

ii6 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

dreams* till the soul in one last struggle, plunges into a body, as into 
a house and wakes up within it. Then he rises and finds himself 
in a wonderful vast world of white light and clear, frankly coloured 
shapes, an inheritor of a million stars. On enquiry he is informed that 
his name Is Gilbert Keith Chesterton. This amuses him. 

He goes through a number of extraordinary and fantastic rituals; 
which the pompous elfland he has entered demands. The first is that 
he shall get inside a house of clothing, a tower of wool and flax; 
that he shall put on this foolish armour solemnly, one piece after 
another and each in its right place. The things called sleevelinks he 
attends to minutely. His hair he beats angrily with a bristly tool. For 
this is the Law, Downstairs a more monstrous ceremony attends him. 
He has to put things inside himself. He does so, being naturally 
polite. Nor can it be denied that a weird satisfaction follows. 

He takes a sword in his hand (for what may not befall him in so 
strange a country!) and goes forth: he finds a hole in the wall, a little 
cave wherein sits One who can give him the charm that rules the 
horse of water and fire. He finds an opening and descends into the 
bowels of the earth. Down, among the roots of the Eternal hills, he 
finds a sunless temple wherein he prays, And in the centre of it he 
finds a lighted temple in which he enters. Then there are noises as 
of an earthquake and smoke and fire in the darkness: and when he 
opens the door again he is in another temple, out of which he climbs 
into another world, leagues and leagues away. And when he asks the 
meaning of the vision, they talk gibberish and say, "It is a train/' 

So the day goes, full of eerie publishers and elfin clerks, till he 
returns and again puts things inside him, and then sits down and 
makes men in his own head and writes down all that they said and 
did. And last of all comes the real life itself. For half-an-hour he 
writes words upon a scrap of paper, words that are not picked and 
chosen like those that he has used to parry the strange talk of the 
folk all day, but words in which the soul's blood pours out, like the 
body's blood from a wound. He writes secretly this mad diary, all 
his passion and longing, all his queer religion, his dark and dreadful 
gratitude to God, his idle allegories, the tales that tell themselves in 
his head; the joy that comes on him sometimes (he cannot help it!) 
at the sacred intoxication of existence: the million faults of idle 
ness and recklessness and the one virtue of the unconquered adora 
tion of goodness, that dark virtue that every man has, and hides 

A Long Engagement 117 

deeper than all his vices! He writes all this down as he is writing 
it now. And he knows that if he sticks it down and puts a stamp 
on it and drops it into the mouth of a little red goblin at the 
corner of the street he knows that all this wild soliloquy will be 
poured into the soul of one wise and beautiful lady sitting far 
away beyond seas and rivers and cities, under the shadow of an alien 
Cathedral. . . . This is not all so irrelevant as you may think. It was 
this line of feeling that taught me, an utter Rationalist as far as 
dogma goes, the lesson of the entire Spirituality of things an 
opinion that nothing has ever shattered since. I can't express myself 
on the point, nobody can. But it is only the spirituality of things that 
we are sure of. That the eyes in your face are eyes I do not know: 
they may have other names and uses. I know that they are good or 
beautiful, or rather spiritual. I do not know on what principle the 
Universe is run, I know or feel that it is good or spiritual I do not 
know what Gertrude's death was I know that it was beautiful, for 
I saw it. We do not feel that it is so beautiful now why? Because 
we do not see it now. What we see now is her absence: but her 
Death is not her absence, but her Presence somewhere else. That is 
what we knew was beautiful, as long as we could see it. Do not be 
frightened, dearest, by the slow inevitable laws of human nature, we 
shall climb back into the mountain of vision: we shall be able to 
use the word, with the accent of Whitman. "Disembodied, trium 
phant, dead." 

In the Notebook he was writing: 

There is a heart within a distant town 
Who loves me more than treasure or renown 
Think you it strange and wear it as a crown. 

Is not the marvel here; that since the kiss 
And dizzy glories of that blinding bliss 
One grief has ever touched me after this. 

We see Gilbert in the next two letters more concerned about a 
grand dinner of the J.D.C. than about his future fame and 
fortune. In the second he mentions almost casually that he is 
leaving Fisher Unwin. From now on he was to live by his pen. 

1 1 8 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

ii Warwick Gardens, 

Tuesday Night. 3rd Oct. 1899, 

. , . Nothing very astonishing has happened yet, though many 
astonishing things will happen soon. The Final Perfection of Hu 
manity I expect shortly. The Speaker for this weekthe first of the 
New Speaker, is coming out soon, and may contain something of 
mine though I cannot be quite sure, A rush of the Boers on Natal, 
strategically quite possibly successful, is anticipated by politicians. 
The rising of the sun tomorrow morning is predicted by astrono 
mers. My father again is engaged in the crucial correspondence with 
Fisher Unwin, at least it has begun by T.F*U. stating his proposed 
terms a rise of 5/ from October, another rise possible but unde 
fined in January, 10 per cent royalty for the Paris book and expenses 
for a fortnight in Paris. These, as I got my father to heartily agree, 
are vitiated to the bone as terms by the absence of any assurance 
that I shall not have to write "Paris," for which I am really paid 
nothing, outside the hours of work for which I am paid 25/ . In 
short, the net result would be that instead of gaining more liberty 
to rise in the literary world, I should be selling the small liberty of 
rising that I have now for five more shillings. This my father is 
declining and asking for a better settlement. The diplomacy is worry 
ing, yet I enjoy it; I feel like Mr. Chamberlain on the eve of war. 
I would stop with T.F.U. for 100 a year but not for less. Which 
means, I think, that I shall not stop at all. 

But all these revolutions, literary, financial and political fade into 
insignificance compared with the one really tremendous event of 
this week. It will take place on Saturday next. The sun will stand 
still upon Leicester Square and the Moon on the Valley of Wardour 
St. For then will assemble the Grand Commemorative Meeting of 
the Junior Debating Club. The Secretary, Mr. L.R.R Oldershaw, 
will select a restaurant, make arrangements and issue the proclama 
tions, or, to use the venerable old Club phrase "the writs/' When 
this gorgeous function is over, you must expect a colossal letter. 
Everyone of the old Brotherhood, scattered over many cities and 
callings, has hailed the invitation, and is coming, with the exception 
of Bentley, who will send a sensational telegram from Paris. The fun 
is expected to be fast and furious, the undercurrent of emotion 
(twelve * years old) is not likely to be much disguised, As I say, I 

* See footnote, p. 279, 

A Long Engagement 119 

will write you a sumptuous description of it; it is somewhat your 
due, for the thing is, and always will be, one of the main strands 
of my life. . . . 

None can say what will occur. It is one of those occasions when 
Englishmen are not much like the pictures of them in Continental 
satires . . . there is more in this old affair of ours than possibly meets 
the eye. It is a thing that has left its roots deep in the hearts of 
twelve strangely different men. . . . And now that seven of us have 
found the New Life that can only be found in Woman, it would be 
mean indeed not to turn back and thank the old. , . . 

n, Warwick Gardens, W. 

. . . This is the colossal letter. I trust you will excuse me if the 
paper is conceived on a similar scale of Babylonian immensity. I 
cannot make out exactly whether I did or did not post a letter I wrote 
to you on Saturday. If I did not, I apologise for missing the day. If 
I did, you will know by this time one or two facts that may interest 
you, the chief of which is that I am certainly leaving Fisher Unwin, 
with much mutual courtesy and goodwill. 

This fact may interest you, I repeat: at this moment I am not 
sure whether it interests me. For my head, to say nothing of another 
organ, is filled with the thundering cheers and songs of the dinner 
on Saturday night. It was, I may say without hesitation, a breathless 
success. Cholmeley, who must be experienced being both a school 
master, a diner out and a clever man, told me he had never in his 
life heard eleven better speeches. I quite agree with him, merely 
adding his own. Everyone was amusing and what is much better, 
singularly characteristic. Will you forgive me, dearest, if I reel off 
to the only soul that can be trusted to enjoy my enjoyment, a kind 
of report of the meeting? It will revivify my own memories. And 
one thing at least that I said in my speech I thoroughly believed in 
"if there is any prayer I should be inclined to make it is that I 
should forget nothing in my life." 

The proceedings opened with dinner. The illustrated menus were 
wildly appreciated: every person got all the rest to sign on the menu 
and then took it away as a memento. Then the telegrams from 
Kruger, Chamberlain, Dreyfus and George Meredith were read* 
Then I proposed the toast of the Queen. I merely said that nothing 
could ever be alleged against the Queen, except the fact that she is 
not a member of the J.D.C. and that I thought it spoke well for the 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

chivalry of Englishmen that with this fact she had never been pub 
licly taunted. 1 said I knew that the virtues of Queen Victoria had 
become somewhat platitudinous, but I thought it was a fortunate 
country in which the virtues of its powerful ones are platitudes. The 
toast was then drunk. . . . 

After a pause and a little conversation, I called upon Lawrence 
Solomon to propose the toast of "The School" He was very amusing 
indeed. Most of his speech would not be very comprehensible to 
an outsider for it largely consisted of an ingenious dove-tailing of 
the sentences in the Latin and Greek Arnold. I shall never forget 
the lucid and precise enunciation with which he delivered the idiotic 
sentences in those works, more especially where he said, "Such a 
course would be more agreeable to Mr. Cholmeley and I would 
rather gratify such a man as he than see the King of the Persians/' 

Cholmeley, amid roars of welcome, rose to respond. I think I must 
have told you in a former letter that Cholmeley is a former class- 
master of ours, a former house-master of Bentley's, and one of the 
nicest men at St. Paul's. We invited him as the only visitor. He said 
a great deal that was very amusing, mostly a commentary on Solo 
mon's remarks about the Latin Arnold, One remark he made was 
that he possessed one particular Latin Arnold, formerly the prop 
erty of the President, which he had withdrawn from him "with every 
expression of contumely" because it was drawn all over with devils, 
He made some very sound remarks about the Club as an answer to 
the common charge against St. Paul's School that it was aridly scho 
lastic, without spontaneous growth in culture or sentiment 

Then Fordham proposed "The Ladies," He was killing, Fordham 
is a personality whom I think you do not know. He is one of the 
most profoundly humourous men I ever knew, but his humour is 
more thickly coated on him, so to speak, than Bentley or Oldershaw, 
ieu, it is much more difficult to make him serious. He is one of the 
most fascinating "typical Englishmen" I ever knew: strong, generous, 
flippant on principle, rowdy by physical inspiration, successful, pop 
ular, married a man to discharge all the normal functions of life 
well. But his most entertaining gift which he displayed truly sumptu 
ously on this occasion is a wonderful gift of burlesque and stereo 
typed rhetoric. With melodramatic gestures he drew attention to the 
torrents of the President's blood pouring "from the wound of the 
tiny god." Amid sympathetic demonstration he protested against 
the pathos of the toast, "the conquered on the field of battle toasting 

A Long Engagement 121 

the conquerors." As the only married member of the Club he ven 
tured to give us some advice on (A) Food, (B) Education, (C) 
Intercourse. He sat down in a pure whirlwind of folly, without say 
ing a word about the feelings that were in all hearts, including his 
own, just then. But I was delighted to find that marriage had not 
taken away an inch of his incurable silliness. 

Nothing could be a greater contrast than the few graceful and 
dignified but very restrained words in which Bertram responded to 
the toast. He is not a man who cares to make fun of women, how 
ever genially. 

Then came Langdon-Davies, whom I called upon to propose "The 
Club." His was perhaps the most interesting case of all. When I 
knew Langdon-Davies in the Junior Debating Club, he was one of 
the most frivolous young men I ever knew. . . . But knowing that 
he was a good speaker in a light style, and had been President of 
the Cambridge Union, I put him down to propose the Club, think 
ing that we should have enough serious speaking and would be well 
to err on the side of entertainment. 

Langdon-Davies got up and proceeded to deliver a speech that 
made me jump. It was, I thought, the best speech of the evening: 
but I am sure it was the most serious, the most sympathetic and a 
long way the most frankly emotional. 

He said that the Club was not now a club in the strict sense. It 
was two things preeminently and everlastingly a memory and an 
influence. He spoke with a singular sort of subdued vividness of the 
influence the Club had had on him in boyhood. He then turned to 
the history of the Club. And here, my dearest lady, I am pained 
to have to report that he launched suddenly and dramatically into 
a most extraordinary, and apparently quite sincere eulogium upon 
myself and the influence I had on my schoolfellows. I will not 
repeat his words I did not believe them, but they took me by sur 
prise and shook me somewhat. Mr. B. N. Langdon-Davies, I may 
remark, and yourself, are the only persons who have ever employed 
the word "genius" in connection with me. I trust it will not occur 

I replied. My speech was a medley, but it appeared very success 
ful. I discussed largely the absence of any successor to the J.D.C. 
I described how I watched the boys leaving school today a solitary 
figure, clad in the latest fashion, moodily pacing the Hammersmith 
Road and asked myself "where among these is the girlish gush of 

12Z Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

a Bentley the passionate volubility of a Vern&de, the half-ethereal 
shyness of a Fordham?!!*' I admitted that we had had misfortunes, 
one of us had a serious illness, another had had a very good story 
in the Strand Magazine: but I thought that a debating club of 12 
members that had given three presidents to the University Unions, 
had not done badly. The rest was sentimental Then began a most 
extraordinary game of battledore and shuttlecock. Vern&de proposed 
the Secretary, Mr* Oldershaw, Mr, Oldershaw, instead of replying 
properly, proposed Mr. Bentley and the absent members* Waldo 
responded for these or rather instead of responding proposed Mr. 
Maurice Solomon. Mr. Maurice Solomon instead of responding pro 
posed Mr. Salter. The latter was the only one who had not spoken 
and on rising he explained his reasons for refusing. He had not 
been in the same room with Mr. Cholmeley, he said, since he had 
sat five years ago in the Lower Fourth * and Mr. Cholmeley had 
told him that he talked too much. He had no desire on his first 
reappearance to create in Mr. Cholmeley's mind the idea that he 
had been at it ever since. 

After this we passed on to singing and nearly brought down the 
roof of Pinoli's restaurant. Cholmeley, the awful being of whose 
classic taste in Greek iambics I once stood in awe, sang with great 
feeling a fragment of lyric literature of which the following was, as 
far as I remember, the refrain: 

"Singing Chooral-i-chooral-i-tiddity 
Also Chooral-i-chooral-i-tay 
And chanting Chooral-i-chooral-i-dititty 
Not forgetting chooral-i-chooraK~day~~" 

Vern&de sang a Sussex pothouse chorus in an indolent and refined 
way which was exquisitely incongruous: Waldo and Langdon-Davies 
also sang. I recited an Ode which I had written for the occasion and 
Lucian recited one of Bentley's poems that came out in an Oxford 
magazine. Then we sang the Anthem f of the JD.C, of which the 
words are, "I am a Member Im a Member Member of the JJD.C, 
I belong to it forever don't you wish that you were me/ 1 

Then we paid the bill. Then we borrowed each other's arms and 
legs in an inextricable tangle and sang **Auld Lang Syne." Then 
we broke up. 

* See footnote, p. zyp, At no time did dates mean anything to Gilbert. 
f It was sung to the tune of "Clementine/' 

A Long Engagement 123 

There now. Five mortal pages o writing and nothing about you 
in it. How relieved you must be, wearied out with allusions to your 
hair and your soul and your clothes and your eyes. And yet it has 
been every word of it about you really. I like to make my past vivid 
to you, especially this past, not only because it was on the whole, a 
fine, healthy, foolish, manly, enthusiastic, idiotic past, with the very 
soul of youth in it. Not only because I am a victim of the prejudice, 
common I trust to all mankind, that no one ever had such friends 
as I had. . . . 

Readers of the Autobiography will remember that many many 
years later, at the celebration of Hilaire Bellows sixtieth birth 
day, the guests threw the ball to one another in just this same 
fashion. Chesterton had by then so far forgotten this earlier occa 
sion that he spoke of the Belloc birthday party as the only dinner 
in his life at which every diner made a speech. 

Two more extracts from his letters must be given, showing 
the efforts made by Frances to look after Gilbert, and his reac 
tions. One of his friends remarked that Gilbert's life was unique 
in that, never having left home for a boarding school or Univer 
sity, he passed from the care of his mother to the care of his wife. 
I think too that the degree of his physical helplessness affected 
all who came near him with the feeling that while he might 
lead them where he would intellectually, it was their task to 
look after a body that would otherwise be wholly neglected. 

The old religionists used to talk about a man being "a fool for 
Christ's sake'' Certainly I have been a blithering fool for your sake. 
I went to see the doctor, as you requested. He asked me what he 
could do for me. I told him I hadn't the least idea, but people 
thought my cold had been going on long enough. He said, 'Tve no 
doubt it has." He then, to afford some relief to the idiotic futility of 
the situation, wrote me a prescription, which I read on my way up 
to business, weeping over the pathetic parts and laughing heartily at 
the funny ones. I have since had some of it. It tastes pretty aimless. 

I cannot remember for certain whether I mentioned in my letter 
that I had had an invitation including yourself, from my Aunt Kate 
for this Friday. As you do not refer to it, I expect I didn't so I 

1*4 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

10 fear giving both our thanks and explaining the state of 
ffftili. "All 1$ over/' I said, "between that lady and myself. Do not 
tint* few 10 me* lest the hideous word 'Woman' should blind me 
to ibc itftpfak word *Aunt/ My life is a howling wastebut what 
HMHHr? H*! Hal Ha!" I cannot remember my exact words, of 
mum* * * * 

* * . iitt i nevolting object. My hair is a matted chaos spread all 
ow dba 0% my beard is like a hard broom. My necktie is on the 
wrong wty lips my bootlaces trail half-way down Fleet St. Why not> 
Wbae* o f s attempts at reformation are "not much believed in" 
what otfaft course is open but a contemptuous relapse into liberty? 

Year last letter makes me much happier, I put great faith in the 
healing power of the great winds and the sun. "Nature," as Walt 
WMtman says, "and her primal sanities/' Mrs. S . . , also, is a 
primal sanity. It is not, I believe, considered complimentary, in a 
common way, to approach an attractive lady and say pleasantly, 
**Y0t* are thousands of years old/' Or, "You seem to me as old as 
tie mountains." Therefore I do not say it. But I always feel that 
anyone beautiful and strong is really oldfor the really old things 
are not decrepit: decrepit things are dying early, The Roman Em 
pire was decrepit, A sunrise cloud is old. 

So I think there are some people, who even in their youth, seem to 
have existed always; they bear the mark of the elemental things: the 
things that recur; they are as old as springtime, as old as daybreak 
as old as Youth* 


Who is G.K.C? 

THE ,^J2SL3^^ Il ~" an ^ t ^ ie whole country enthusiastically 
behind it. The Liberal Party as a whole went with the Con 
servatives. The leading Fabians Bernard Shaw, Mr. and Mrs. 
Sidney Webb, Hubert Bland, Cecil Chesterton and the "semi 
detached Fabian" H. G. Wells were likewise for the war. 
Only a tiny minority remained in opposition, most of whom were 
pacifists or cranks of one kind or another. To the sane minority 
of this minority Gilbert found himself belonging. It is some 
thing of a tribute to the national feeling at such a moment of 
tension that (as an American has noted) "Chesterton was the 
one British writer, utterly unknown before, who built up a 
great reputation, and it was gained, not through nationalistic 
support, but through determined and persistent opposition to 
British policy." * 

In his Daily News column a correspondent later asked him 
to define his position. Chesterton replied, "The unreasonable 
patriot is one who sees the faults of Jii^ f ^{Jierland with m an t eye 
which is clearer and more merciless than any eye of hatred, the 
eye of an irrational and irrevocable love?* 'His attitude sprang, 
he claimed, not from "3e?ecf "But" from excess i>f patriotism. 

It is hardjojfm^^ better the 

ideas of a strong mind than finding itself in opppsjitiQp.. w This / 
opposition began at home, in argument with Cecil. Later the 
two brothers would agree about most main issues, but now Cecil 
was a Tory democrat, Giftert a projBoer, and what was ^ known 

* Chesterton, bv r ^ r " 1 ^"^ens, p. 2,0. 


Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

as a little Englander. The tie between the two brothers was very 
close. As the "Innocent Child" developed into the combative 
companion, there is no doubt that he proportionately affected 
Gilbert* All their friends talk of the endless amicable arguments 
through which both grew. Conrad Noel remembers parties at 
Warwick Gardens during the Boer War at which the two 
brothers "would walk up and down like the two pistons of an 
engine" to the disorganisation of the company and the dismay 
of their parents. It was at this time that Frances, engaged to a 
deeply devoted Gilbert, found even that devotion insufficient to 
pry him and Cecil apart when an argument had got well under 

"I must go home, Gilbert, I shall miss my train/' 

Usually he would have sprung to accompany her, but now 
;he must miss many trains before the brothers could be separated. 

Frances told me that when they were at the seaside the land- 
ady would sometimes clear away breakfast, leaving the brothers 
irguing, come to set lunch and later set dinner while still they 
irgued. They had come to the seaside but they never saw the sea. 

Once Frances was staying with them at a house they had 
aken by the sea. Her room was next to Cecil's and she could 
not sleep for the noise of the discussion that went on hour after 
aour. About one in the morning she rapped on the wall .and 
;aid, "O Cecil, do send Gilbert to bed." A brief silence followed, 
ind then the remark, in a rather abashed voice, 'There's no one 
here/' Cecil had been arguing with himself. Gilbert too argued 
with himself for the stand he was taking was a hard one* Mr, 
Belloc has told me that he felt Gilbert suffered at any word 
against England, that his patriotism was passionate. And now he 
had himself to say that he believed his country to be in the 
Wrong. To admit it to himself, to state it to others. 

This autumn of 1899 G.K, began to write for the Speaker. 
The weekly of this title had long been in a languishing condi 
tion when it was taken over by a group of young Liberals of 

Who is G.K.C.? 127 

very marked views. Hammond became editor and Philip Comyns 
Carr sub-editor. Sir John Simon was among the group for a short 
while, but he soon told one of them that he feared close associa 
tion with the Speaker might injure his career. F. Y. Eccles was 
in charge of the review department. He is able to date the start 
of what was known as the "new" Speaker with great exactitude, 
for when the first number was going to press the ultimatum had 
been sent to Kruger and the editors hesitated as to whether 
they should take the risk of announcing that it was war in South 
Africa. They decided against, but before their second number 
appeared war had been declared. 

My difficulty in getting a picture of the first meeting of Belloc 
and Chesterton illustrates the problem of human testimony and 
the limits of that problem. For I imagine a scripture critic, old 
style, would end by concluding that the men never met at alL 

F* Y. Eccles, E. C. Bentley and Lucian Oldershaw all claim 
to have made the momentous introduction, Mr. Eccles adding 
that it took place at the office of the Speaker, while Gilbert him 
self has described the meeting twice: once in the street, once in 
a restaurant. Belloc remembers the introduction as made in the 
year 1900 by Lucian Oldershaw, who was living at the time with 
Hammond. Mr. Oldershaw usually has the accuracy of the hero- 
worshipper and upon this matter he adds several amusing details. 
For some time he had been trying to get the group on the Speaker 
to read Chesterton and had in vain taken several articles to the 
office. Mr. Eccles deckred the handwriting was that of a Jew 
and he prejudiced Belloc, says Oldershaw, against reading "any 
thing written by my Jew friend." 

But when at last they did meet, Belloc "opened the conversa 
tion by saying in his most pontifical manner, 'Chesterton, you 
wr-r-ite very well/" Chesterton was then 26, Belloc four years 
older. It was at the Mont Blanc, a restaurant in Gerrard St., 
Soho, and the meeting was celebrated with a botde of Moulin 
au Vent. 

X2.8 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

The first description given by Gilbert himself is at once earlier 
and more vivid than the better known one in the Autobiography. 

When I first met Belloc he remarked to the friend who introduced 
us that he was in low spirits. His low spirits were and are much 
more uproarious and enlivening than anybody else's high spirits. 
He talked into the night, and left behind in it a glowing track of 
good things. When I have said that I mean things that are good, and 
certainly not merely bans mots, I have said all that can be said in 
the most serious aspect about the man who has made the greatest 
fight for good things of all the men of my time. 

We met between a little Soho paper shop and a little Soho res- 
taurantj his arms and pockets were stuffed with French Nationalist 
and French Atheist newspapers. He wore a straw hat shading his 
eyes, which are like a sailor's, and emphasizing his Napoleonic 
chin* . , * 

The little restaurant to which we went had already become a 
haunt for three or four of us who held strong but unfashionable 
views about the South African War, which was then in its earliest 
prestige. Most of us were writing on the Speaker, , . , 

* . . What he brought into our dream was this Roman appetite 
for reality and for reason in action, and when he came into the door 
there entered with him the smell of danger,* 

, "It was from that dingy little Soho cafiS," Chesterton writes 
in the Autobiography, "that there emerged the quadruped, the 
twiformed monster Mr. Shaw has nicknamed the Chesterbelloc." 
Listening to Belloc is intoxicating. I have heard many brilliant 
talkers, but none to whom that word can so justly be applied. 
He goes to your head, he takes you off your feet, he leaves you 
breathless, he can convince you of anything. My mother and 
brother both counted it as one of the great experiences of their 
lives to have dined with Belloc in a small Paris Restaurant (Aux 
Vendanges de Bourgogne) and then to have walked with him 
the streets of that glorious city while he discoursed of Its past. 
Imagination staggers before the picture of a Belloc in his full 

* Introduction to: Httrfr* BcDoc: The Man and His Work by C. C Man- 
dell and H. Shanks, 19x6. 

Who is G.K.C.? 129 

youth and vigour in a group fitted to strike from him his bright 
est fire at a moment tig with issues for the world's future. 

In Chesterton's Autobiography a chapter is devoted to the 
"Portrait of A Friend/' while Belloc in turn has said something 
of Chesterton in obituary notices and also in a brief study of his 
position in English literature. None of these documents give 
much notion of the intellectual flame struck out by one mind 
against the other. It has often been asked how much Belloc 
influenced Chesterton. 

The best test of an influence in a writer's life is to compare 
what he wrote before with what he wrote after he was first sub 
jected to it. It is easy to apply this test to Belloc's influence on 
G.K.C. because of the mass we still have of his boyhood writings. 
In pure literature, in philosophy and theology he remains un 
touched by the faintest change. Pages from the Notebook could 
be woven into Orthodoxy, essays from The Debater introduced 
into The Victorian Age in Literature, and it would look simply 
like buds and flowers on the same bush. Belloc has characterized 
himself as ignorant of English literature and says he learnt from 
Chesterton most of what he knows of it, while there is no doubt 
Chesterton was by far the greater philosopher. 

With politics, sociology, and history (and the relation of reli 
gion to all three) it is different. Belloc himself told me he 
thought the chief thing he had done for Chesterton when they 
first met was 'to open his eyes to reality Chesterton had been 
unusually young for his twenty-six years and unusually simple 
in regard to the political scene. He was in fact the young man he 
himself was later to describe as knowing all about politics and 
nothing about politicians. The four years between the two men 
seemed greater than it was, partly because of Belloc's more varied 
experience of life French military training, life at Oxford, wide 
travel and an early marriage. 

Belloc, then, could teach Chesterton a certain realism about 
politics which meant a certain cynicism about politicians. Far 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

more valuable, however, was what Belloc had to give him in 
sociology. We have seen that G.K, was already dissatisfied with 
Socialism before he met Belloc: it may be that by his considera 
tion of the nature of man he would later have reached the 
positions so individually set out in What's Wrong with the 
World but this can only remain a theoretical question. For 
Belloc did actually at this date answer the sociological ques 
tion that Chesterton at this date was putting: answered it 
brilliantly and answered it truly. Every test that G,K. could later 
apply of profound human reality, of truth divinely revealed- 
convinced him that the answer was true. 

He had, he has told us, been a Socialist because it was so 
horrible not to be one, but he now learned of the historical 
Christian alternative equally opposed to Socialism and to Capi 
talism well-distributed property. This had worked in the past, 
was still working in many European countries, could be made 
to work again in England. The present trend appeared to Belloc 
to be towards the Servile State, and in the book with this title 
and a second book The Restoration of Property he later devel 
oped his sociology. After this first meeting, two powerful and 
very different minds would reciprocally influence one another. 
An admirer of both told me that he thought Chesterton got the 
idea of small property from Belloc but gave Belloc a fuller 
realization of the position of the family. One difference between 
them is that Belloc writes sociology as a textbook while Chester 
ton writes it as a human document. All the wealth of imagina 
tion that Belloc pours into The Path to Rome or The Four Men 
he sternly excludes from The Servile State, The poet, traveller, 
essayist is one man, the sociologist another. 

The third field of influence was history, Here Belloc did 
Chesterton two great services he restored the proportion of Eng 
lish history, and he put England back into its context. Since the 
Reformation, English history had been written with all the stress 

Who is G.K.C.? 131 

on the Protestant period. Lingard had written earlier but had not 
been popularized and certainly would not be used at St. Paul's 
School. And even Lingard had laid little stress on the social ef 
fects of the Reformation. Mr. Hammond's contemporary work 
on English social history fitted into Belloc's more vivid if less 
documented vision none of this could be disregarded by later 

Belloc, too, restored that earlier England to the Christendom 
to which it belonged. The England of Macaulay or of Green 
had, like Mr. Mantalinfs dowager, either no outline or a 
"demned outline" for it was cut out of a larger map. And Ches 
terton was always seeking an outline of history. 

To get England back into the context of Christendom is a 
great thing: just how great must depend upon how rightly Chris 
tendom is conceived. One cannot always escape the feeling 
that Belloc conceives it too narrowly. His famous phrase "The 
Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith" omits too much the 
East out of which Christianity came; the new worlds into which 
Europe has flowed. Belloc of course knows these things and has 
often said them. It is rather a question of emphasis, of how 
things loom in the mind when judgments have to be made. In 
that sense he does tend to narrow the Faith to Europe: in exactly 
the same sense he does tend to narrow Europe to France. Born 
in France of a French father, educated in England, Belloc chose 
his mothers nationality, chose to be English; but his Creator had 
chosen differently, and there is not much a man can do in com 
petition with his Creator. I do not for a moment suggest that 
Belloc, having chosen to be English, is conscious of anything but 
loyalty to the country of his adoption. The thing lies far below 
the mind's conscious movements. Belloc thinks of himself as an 
Englishman with a patriotic duty to criticise his country, but his 
feelings are not really those of an Englishman. Once at least he 
recognised this when he wrote the verse: 

* 31 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

England ID me that never have malingered, 
Nor spoken falsely, nor your flattery used, 
Nor vm in my rightful garden lingered: * 
What hive you not refused? 

And just as France was Bailee's rightful garden so England 
was Chesterton V When first they talked of the Church he told 
Belloc that he wanted the example of "someone entirely English 
who should none the less have come in," When criticising his 
country his voice has the note of pain that only love can give. 
Belloc saw him as intensely national "English of the English 
. . . a mirror of England ... he writes with an English 


It is of some interest that after meeting Belloc Gilbert added 
notes to two early poems, each note reflecting a judgment of Bel- 
loc's on the Dreyfus case which Belloc saw as all French Cath 
olics saw it: on Anglo-American relations which Belloc saw as 
most Latin Europeans would see it* 

(0 The first was the poem entitled 'To a Certain Nation" 
addressed to France in commentary on the Dreyfus case of 1899 
which must be briefly explained for those who are too young to 
remember the excitement it caused. Captain Dreyfus, a Jewish 
officer in the French army, had been found guilty of treachery 
and sent to Devil's Island. All France was divided into two 
camps on the question of his guilt or innocence. In general, 
Catholics and what we should call the Right were all for his 
guilt; atheists, anti-clericals and believers in the Republic were 
for his innocence* Passions were roused to fury on both sides. 
English opinion was almost entirely for his innocence. I was a 
small girl at the time and I remember that my brother and I 
amused ourselves by crying Vive Dreyfu$> on all possible and im 
possible occasions, for the annoyance of our pious French gov 
erness, I remember also that our parents were startled by the 

* Italics mine. 

Who is G.K.C.? 133 

vehemence of the French Catholic paper La Croioc from which 
our governess imbibed her views. Ultimately the case was re 
opened, and Dreyfus, after years of horror on DeviTs Island, 
found not guilty and restored to his rank in the army. But there 
are, I know, Catholic Frenchmen alive today who refuse to be 
lieve in his innocence and hold that the whole thing was a Jew 
ish-Masonic plot that hampered the French espionage service 
and nearly lost us the war of 1914. 

In the first edition of The Wild Knight> written before the 
meeting with Belloc, Gilbert, like any other English Liberal, had 
assumed Dreyfus' innocence and in the poem "To a Certain 
Nation" had reproached the France of the Revolution, the France 
he had loved, as unworthy of herself. 

. . . and we 
Who knew thee once, we have a right to weep. 

The Note in the second edition shows him as now undecided 
about Dreyfus* guilt and concludes: "There may have been a fog 
of injustice in the French courts; I know that there was a fog 
of injustice in the English newspapers." 

(2) In "An Alliance" Chesterton had gloried in "the blood of 
Hengist" and hymned an Anglo-American alliance with the en 
thusiasm of a young Republican who took for granted the links of 
language and of origin that might draw together two great coun 
tries into something significant: 

In change, eclipse, and peril 

Under the whole world's scorn, 
By blood and death and darkness 

The Saxon peace is sworn; 
That all our fruit be gathered 

And all our race take hands, 
And the sea be a Saxon river 

That runs through Saxon lands. 

But in the Note to the second edition, he says: 

134 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

In the matter of the "Anglo-American Alliance" I have come to 
see that our hopes of brotherhood with America are the same in 
kind as our hopes of brotherhood with any other of the great inde 
pendent nations of Christendom, And a very small study of history 
was sufficient to show me that the American Nation, which is a 
hundred years old, is at least fifty years older than the Anglo-Saxon 

The poem was of course only a boyish expression of a boyish 
dream; like all dreams, like all boyhood dreams especially, it 
omitted too much; yet it contained a thought that might well 
have borne rich fruit in Gilbert's Catholic life* 

My mother told me once that when after three years' study 
of Queen Elizabeth's character she came to a different conclu 
sion from Belloc, she found it almost impossible to resist his 
power and hold on to her own view. It must be realised that 
Chesterton actually preferred the attitude of a disciple. A mutual 
friend has told me that Chesterton listened to Belloc all the time 
and said very little himself. In matters historical where he felt 
his own ignorance, Gilbert's tendency was simply to make an 
act of faith in Belloc, 

On nothing were the two men more healthily in accord than 
on the Boer War. In an interesting study of Belloc, prefixed 
to a French translation of Contemporary England, F. Y, Eccles 
explains how he and most of the Speaker group differed from 
the pacifist pro-Boers, who hated the South African war be 
cause they hated all wars. The young Liberals on the Speaker 
were not pacifists. They hated the war because they thought it 
would harm England harm her morally to be fighting for an 
unjust cause, and even materially to be shedding the blood of 
her sons and pouring out her wealth at the bidding of a handful 
of alien financiers. Thus far Gilbert was among one group with 
whom he was in fullest sympathy, But I think he went further. 
Mr. Eccles told me that most of the Speaker group had no sym- 

* Collected Poems, p. 318. 

Who is G.K.C.? 135 

pathy with the Boers. Gilbert had. He thought of them as human 
beings who might well have been farmers of Sussex or of Kent, 
something of an older civilization, resisting money power and 
imperialism and perishing thereby. 

Few, indeed, of the Liberal Party held Chesterton's ideal an 
England territorially small, spiritually great. The Speaker was 
struggling against odds: it was the voice of a tiny group. To 
Gilbert it seemed that this mattered nothing so long as that little 
group held to their great ideas, so long as the paper represented 
not merely a group or a party but the Liberal Idea. In an unfin 
ished letter to Hammond is to be found this Idea as he saw it and 
his dawning disappointment even with the paper that most 
nearly stood for it; 

I am just about to commit a serious impertinence. I believe how 
ever that you will excuse it because it is about the paper and I know 
there is not another paper dead or alive for which I would take the 
trouble or run the risk of offence. 

I am hearing on all sides the Speaker complained of by the very 
people who should be and would be (if they could) its enthusiastic 
supporters and I cannot altogether deny the truth of their objections, 
though I am glad to notice both in them and in myself the fact 
that those objections are tacitly based on the assumption of the 
Speaker having an aim and standard higher than other papers. If 
the Speaker were a mere party rag like "Judy" or "The Times/' it 
would be only remarkable for moderation, but to us who have built 
hopes on it as the pioneer of a younger and larger political spirit 
it is difficult to be silent when we find it, as it seems to us, poisoned 
with that spirit of ferocious triviality which is the spirit of Birming 
ham eloquence, and with that evil instinct which has disintegrated 
the Irish party, the instinct for hating the man who differs from 
you slightly, more than the man who differs from you altogether. 

Of two successive numbers during the stress of the fight (a fight 
in which we had first to unite our army and then to use it) a con 
siderable portion was devoted, first to sneering at "The Daily News" 
and then to sneering at "The Westminster Gazette." * . * 

There is a sentence in the Book of Proverbs which expresses the 
whole of my politics. "For the liberal man deviseth liberal things and 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

by his liberality he shall stand." Now what I object to is sneering 
at "The Westminster" as a supporter of Chamberlain when everyone 
knows that it hardly lets a day pass without an ugly caricature of 
him. What I object to in this is that it is talking Brummagem it 
is not "devising liberal things*' but spiteful, superficial, illiberal 
things. 'It is claptrap and temporary deception of the "Patriotism 
before Politics" order. , . 

To all this you will say there is an obvious answer. The Speaker 
is a party paper and does not profess to be otherwise* But here I am 
sure we are mistaking our mission. What the Speaker is (I hope and 
believe) destined to do, is to renovate Liberalism, and though Lib 
eralism (like every other party) is often conducted by claptrap, it has 
never been renovated by claptrap, but by great command of temper 
and the persistent exposition of persuasive and unanswerable truths, 
It is while we are in the desert that we have the vision; we being 
a minority, must be all philosophers: we must think for both parties 
in the State, It is no good our devoting ourselves to the flowers of 
mob oratory with no mob to address them to. We must, like the 
Free Traders, for instance, have discoveries, definite truths and end 
less patience in explaining them* We must be more than a political 
party or we shall cease to be one. Time and again in history victory 
has come to a little party with big ideas: but can anyone conceive 
anything with the mark of death more on its brow than a little 
party with little ideas? * 

Such Liberalism was not perhaps of this world* It certainly 
was not of the Liberal Party! 

Gilbert argued much with himself during these years... 
come out of his time of trial with firm faith in God and in man* 
But his philosophy was still in the malang, and he mHe~lt 
largely out of the material supplied by ordinary London sub 
urban society and by the rather less usual society of cranks and 
enthusiasts so plentiful at the end of the nineteenth century. 
He has written in the Autobiography of the artistic and dilet 
tante groups where everyone discussed religion and no one 

* Undated, handwritten letter in a notebook. 

Who is G.K.C.? 137 

practised it, of the Christian Socialists and other societies into 
which he and Cecil found their way, and of some of the friend 
ships they formed. Among these one of the closest was with 
Conrad Noel who wrote in answer to my request for his recol 

We met G.K.C. for the first time at the Stapleys' in Bloomsbury 
^Square, at a series of meetings of the Christo-Theosophic Society. He 
was like a very hig fish out of water; he was comparatively thin, how 
ever, in those days, nearly forty years ago. We had been much 
intrigued by the weekly contribution of an unknown writer to "The 
Speaker" and "The Nation" brilliant work, and my wife and I, 
independently, came to the conclusion when we heard this young 
man speak that it must be he. The style was unmistakable. 

I thought of writing to him to congratulate him on his speech, but 
before I could do so, I got a letter from him, saying that he was 
coming to hear me in the same Aeries in a week or so; it was thus we 
first became acquainted, and the acquaintance ripened into a warm 
friendship with us both, He and his brother Cecil were in and out 
of our flat in Paddington Green, where I was assistant curate. He 
was genial, bubbling over with jokes, at which he roared with 

The question was becoming insistent: when would there be 
enough money for Frances mdJ3^ 

In one letter Frances asks him what he thinks of Omar Khay 
yam, He replies at great length, and concludes: 

You see the result of asking me for an opinion. I have written it 
very hurriedly: if I had paused I might make an essay of it. (Com 
mercial Pig!) Never mind, sweetheart, that Essay might be a sauce 
pan some day or at any rate a cheap toast-rack. 

Of fel^ JjelieM 

found cerjLjtudg : jrhat his outlook was one that held him back 
from many fields of opportunity he was already partly conscious. 
A fragment of a letter to Frances expresses this feeling. 

138 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

... I find I cannot possibly come tonight as my Canadian uncle 
keeps his last night in England in a sort of family party. And I 
abide by my father's house said our Lady of the Snows. 

I have just had a note from Rex, asking me, with characteristic 
precision, if I can produce a play in the style of Maeterlinck by 
6.30 this afternoon, or words to that effect. The idea is full of 
humour. He remarks, as a matter of fact, that there is just a remote 
chance of his getting the Stage Society to act my play of The Wild 
Knight. This opens to me a vista of quite new ambition. Why only 
at the Stage Society? I see a visionary programme. 

The Wild Knight Mr. Charles Hawtree 

Captain Redfeather Mr. Penley 

Olive Miss Katie Seymour 

Priest Sir Henry Irving 

Lord Orm Mr. Arthur Roberts 

I am working and must get on with my work. I do not feel any 
despondency about it because I know it is good and worth doing. It 
is extraordinary how much more moral one is than one imagines. 
At school I never minded getting into a row if it were really not my 
fault. Similarly, I have never cared a rap for rejections or criticisms, 
since I had got a point of view to express which I was certain held 
water. Some people think it holds water on the brain. But I don't 
mind. Bless them. 

I am afraid, darling, that this doctrine of patience is hard on you. 
But really it's a grand thing to think oneself right. It's what this 
whole age is starving for. Something to suffer for and go mad and 
miserable over that is the only luxury of the mind. I wish I were 
a convinced Pro-Boer and could stare down a howling mob. But 
1 am right about the Cosmos, and Schopenhauer and Co. are 
wrong. . . . 

Two interesting points in this letter are the remark about 
wishing to be a convinced Pro-Boer which he certainly became 
and the suggestion of a possible performance of The Wild 
Knight. Perhaps the letter was written before lie had finally 
taken his stand (it has no dating postmark), or perhaps it merely 
means that his convictions on the cosmos are more absolute than 

Who is G.K.C.? 139 

publication was made possible only by the generosity of Gilbert's 
father. For a volume of comic verse, Greybeards at Play, which 
appeared earlier in the same year (1900), he could find a pub 
lisher, but serious poetry has never been easy to launch. 

The letter that follows has a more immediate bearing on their 
own future: 

ii, Warwick Gardens, 
Good Friday. 1900. 

... As you have tabulated your questions with such alarming 
precision I must really endeavour to answer them categorically. 

(1) How am I? I am in excellent health. I have an opaque cold 
in my head, cough tempestuously and am very deaf. But these 
things I count as mere specks showing up the general blaze of salu 
brity. I am getting steadily better and I don't mind how slowly. As 
for my spirits a cold never affects them: for I have plenty to do and 
think about indoors. One or two little literary schemes trifles doubt 
lessclaim my attention. 

(2) Am I going away at Easter? The sarcastic might think it a 
characteristic answer, but I can only reply that I had banished the 
matter from my mind, a vague problem of the remote future until 
you asked it: but since this is Easter and we are not gone away I 
suppose we are not going away. 

(3) I will meet you at Euston on Tuesday evening though hel] 
itself should gape and bid me stop at home. 

(4) I am not sure whether a review on Crivelli's art is out this 
week: I am going to look. 

(5) Alas! I have not been to Nutt There are good excuses, but 
they are not the real ones. I will write to him now. Yes: Now. 

(6) Does my hair want cutting} My hair seems pretty happy. 
You are the only person who seems to have any fixed theory on this. 
For all I know it may be at that fugitive perfection which has 
moved you to enthusiasm. Three minutes after this perfection, I 
understand, a horrible degeneration sets in: the hair becomes too 
long, the figure disreputable and profligate: and the individual is 
unrecognised by all his friends. It is he that wants cutting then, 
not his hair. 

(7) As to shirt-links, studs and laces, I glitter from head to foot 
with them. 

140 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

(8) I have had a few skirmishes with Knollys but not the general 
engagement. When this comes off, you shall have news from our 
correspondent, [Knollys was Frances's brother.] 

(9) I have got a really important job in reviewing the Life of 
Ruskin for the Speaker. As I have precisely 73 theories about Rus- 
kin it will be brilliant and condensed. I am also reviewing the Life 
of the Kendals, a book on the Renascence and one on Correggio for 
"The Bookman." 

(10) How far is it to Babylon? Babylon I am firmly convinced is 
just round the corner: if one could be only certain which corner. 
This conviction is the salt of my life. 

(n) Really and truly I see no reason why we should not be mar 
ried in April if not before. I have been making some money calcula 
tions with the kind assistance of Rex 7 and as far as I can see we 
could live in the country on quite a small amount of regular lit 
erary work. . . . 

P.S. Forgot the last question. 

(12) Oddly enough, I was writing a poem. Will send it to you. 

Gilbert's engagement had given him the impetus to earn more 
but he was always entirely unpractical. His salary at Fisher 
Unwinds had been negligible and he was not making much yet 
by the journalism which was now his only source of income. 
The repeated promise to "write to Nutt" is very characteristic. 
For Nutt was the manager of the solitary publisher who was at 
the moment prepared to put a book of Gilbert's on the market at 
his own risk! 

Although they did not manage to get married this year, by the 
end of it he was becoming well known. The articles, in the 
Speaker especially, were attracting attention and Greybeards at 
Play had a considerable success. This, the first of Gilbert's books 
to be published, is a curiosity. It is made up of three incredibly 
witty satirical poems "The Oneness of the Philosopher with 
Nature/' "The Dangers Attending Altruism on the High Seas" 
and "The Disastrous Spread of Aestheticism in All Classes/' The 
illustrations drawn by himself are as witty as the verses. By the 
beginning of 1901 his work was being sought for by other Liberal 

Who is G.K.C.? 141 

periodicals and he was writing regularly for the Daily News. 
The following letter to Frances bears the postmark Feb. 8, 1901. 

Somewhere in the Arabian Nights or some such place there is a 
story of a man who was Emperor of the Indies for one day. I am 
rather in the position of that person: for I am Editor of the Speaker 
for one day. Hammond is unwell and Hirst has gone to dine with 
John Morley, so the latter asked me to see the paper through for 
this number. Hence this notepaper and the great hurry and brevity 
which I fear must characterise this letter. 

There are a few minor amusing things, however, that I have a 
moment to mention. 

(1) The "Daily News" have sent me a huge mass of books to 
review, which block up the front hall. A study of Swinburne a book 
on Kipling the last Richard Le Gallienne all very interesting. See 
if I don't do some whacking articles, all about the stars and the 
moon and the creation of Adam and that sort of thing. I really think 
I could work a revolution in daily paper-writing by the introduction 
of poetical prose. 

(2) Among other books that I have to review came, all unso 
licited, a book by your old friend Schofield. Ha! Ha! Ha! It's about 
the Formation of Character, or some of those low and beastly amuse 
ments. I think of introducing parts of my Comic Opera of the 
P.N.E.U. into the articles. 

(3) Another rather funny thing is the way in which my name is 
being spread about. Belloc declares that everyone says to him "Who 
discovered Chesterton?" and that he always replies "The genius 
Oldershaw." This may be a trifle Gallic, but Hammond has shown 
me more than one letter from Cambridge dons and such people 
demanding the identity of G.K.C. in a quite violent tone. They 
excuse themselves by offensive phrases in which the word ''brilliant*' 
occurs, but I shouldn't wonder if there was a thick stick somewhere 
at the back of it. 

Belloc, by the way, has revealed another side of his extraordinary 
mind. He seems to have taken our marriage much to heart, for he 
talks to me, no longer about French Jacobins and Mediaeval Saints, 
but entirely about the cheapest flats and furniture, on which, as on 
the others, he is a mine of information, assuring me paternally that 
"it's the carpet that does you." I should think this fatherly tone 
would amuse you. 

142 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Now I must leave off: for the pages have come up to be seen 
through the press. . . . 

Greybeards at Play its author never took very seriously. It was 
not included in his Collected Poems and he does not even men 
tion it in his Autobiography. He attached a great deal more im 
portance to The Wild Knight and Other Poems. It was a volume 
of some fifty poems, many of which had already appeared in 
The Outlook and The Speaker. It was published late in 1900 
and produced a crop of enthusiastic reviews and more and more 
people began to ask one another, 'Who is G. K. Chesterton?" 
One reviewer wrote: "If it were not for the haunting fear of 
losing a humourist we should welcome the author of The Wild 
Knight to a high place among the poets." Another spoke of the 
"curious intensity" of the volume. Among those who were less 
pleased was John Davidson, on whom the book had been 
fathered by one reviewer, and who denied responsibility for such 
"frantic rubbish," and also a "reverent" reviewer who com 
plained, "It is scattered all over with the name of God." 

To Frances, Gilbert wrote: 

I have been taken to see Mrs. Meynell, poet and essayist, who is 
enthusiastic about the Wild Knight and is lending it to all her 

Last night I went to Mrs, Cox's Book Party. My costume was a 
great success, everyone wrestled with it, only one person guessed it, 
and the rest admitted that it was quite fair and simple. It consisted 
of wearing on the lapel of my dress coat the following letters. 
U.U.N.S.IJ. Perhaps you would like to work this out all by your 
selfBut no, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. The book I repre 
sented was "The Letters of Junius." 

Mrs. Meynell never came to know Gilbert well and her 
daughter says in the biography that her mother realised his 
"critical approval" (admiration would be a better word) of her 
own work only by reading his essays. But he once wrote an 
introduction for a book of hers and her admiration of him would 

Who is G.K.C.? 143 

break out frequently in amusing exclamations: "I hope the papers 
are nice to my Chesterton. He is mine much more, really, than 
Belloc V * "If I had been a man, and large, I should have been 
Chesterton/' f 

Brimley Johnson, who was to have been Gilbert's brother-in- 
law, sent The Wild Knight to Rudyard Kipling. His reply is 
amusing and also touching, for Mr. Johnson was clearly pouring 
out, in interest in Gilbert's career and in forwarding his marriage 
with Frances, the affections that might merely have been frozen 
by Gertrude's death. 

The Elms, Rottingdean, 

Nov. 28th. 

Many thanks for the Wild Knight. Of course I knew some of the 
poems before, notably The Donkey which stuck in my mind at the 
time I read it. 

I agree with you that there is any amount of promise in the work 
and I think marriage will teach him a good deal too. It will be 
curious to see how hell develop in a few years. We all begin with 
arrainging (sic) and elaborating all the Heavens and Hells and stars 
and tragedies we can lay our poetic hands on Later we see folk- 
just common people under the heavens 

Meantime I wish him all the happiness that there can be and for 
yourself such comfort as men say time brings after loss. It's apt to 
be a weary while coming but one goes the right way to get it if 
one interests oneself in the happiness of other folk. Even though the 
sight of this happiness is like a knife turning in a wound. 

Yours sincerely, 


P.S. Merely as a matter of loathsome detail, Chesterton has a bad 
attack of "aureoles/' They are spotted all over the book. I think every 
one is bound in each book to employ unconsciously some pet word 
but that was Rossetti's. 

Likewise I notice "wan waste" and many "wans" and things that 
"catch and cling." He is too good not to be jolted out of that. What 

Alice Meynell, p. 259. 
p. 260. 

144 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

do you say to a severe course of Walt Whitman or will marriage 
make him see people? 

Gilbert had already taken both prescriptiono Walt Whitman 
and "folk, just common people under the heavens/' (Many years 
later James Agate wrote in Thursdays and Fridays: "Unlike some 
other serious thinkers, Chesterton understood his fellow men; 
the woes of a jockey were as familiar to him as the worries of a 
judge/') Perhaps some slight echoes of Swinburne did remain in 
this collection. Many earlier poems exist in the Swinburne man 
ner, not of thought but of expression: Gilbert left an absolute 
command that these should never be published. 

All Englishmen were stricken by the death of Queen Vic 
toria. Mr. Somers Cocks, who had come to know Gilbert through 
his intimacy with Belloc, remembers that he wept when he 
heard of it. The tears may almost be heard in a letter to Frances. 

Today the Queen was buried. I did not see the procession, first 
because I had an appointment with Hammond (of which more 
anon) and secondly because I think I felt the matter too genuinely. 
I like a crowd when I am triumphant or excited: for a crowd is the 
only thing that can cheer, as much as a cock is the only thing that 
can crow. Can anything be more absurd than the idea of a man 
cheering alone in his back bedroom? But I think that reverence is 
better expressed by one man than a million. There is something un 
natural and impossible, even grotesque, in the idea of a vast crowd 
of human beings all assuming an air of delicacy. All the same, my 
dear, this is a great and serious hour and it is felt so completely by 
all England that I cannot deny the enduring wish I have, quite 
apart from certain more private sentiments, that the noblest English 
woman I have ever known was here with me to renew, as I do, pri 
vate vows of a very real character to do my best for this country of 
mine which I love with a love passing the love of Jingoes. It is some 
times easy to give one's country blood and easier to give her money. 
Sometimes the hardest thing of all is to give her truth. 

I am writing an article on the good friend who is dead: I hope 
particularly that you will like it. The one I really like so far is 
Belloc's in the "Speaker." I had, as I said, many things to say, but 

Who is G.K.C.? 145 

owing to the hour and a certain fatigue and idiocy in myself, I have 
only space for the most important 

Hammond sent for me today and asked me seriously if I would 
help him in writing a book on Fox, sharing work, fame and profits. 
I told him that I had no special talent for research: he replied that 
he had no talent for literary form. I then said that I would be de 
lighted to give him such assistance as I honestly thought valuable 
enough for him to split his profits for, that I thought I could give 
him such assistance in the matter of picturesqueness and plan of 
idea, more especially as Fox was a great hero of mine and the philos 
ophy of his life involves the whole philosophy of the Revolution and 
of the love of mankind. We arranged that we would make a pre 
liminary examination of the Fox record and then decide. . . .* 

Three more letters, two to Frances, one to his mother, com 
plete the outline of this eventful period. He was now determined 
to get married quickly. For the first time and entirely without 
rancour, he realised the inevitable competition in the world of 
journalism. The struggle for success meant men fighting one 
another. Other journalists were fighting him; but truly enough, 
though with a rare dispassionateness, he realised that this meant 
a need for daily bread in others similar to his own. 

n, Warwick Gardens, W. 
(postmark: Feb. 19, 1901) 

... I hope that in your own beautiful kindness you will be in 
dulgent just at this time if I only write rough letters or postcards. 
I am for the first time in my life, thoroughly worried, and I find it 
a rather exciting and not entirely unpleasant sensation. But every 
thing depends just new, not only on my sticking hard to work and 
doing a lot of my very best, but on my thinking about it, keeping 
wide awake to the turn of the market, being ready to do things not 
in half a week, but in half an hour; getting the feelings and tenden 
cies of other men and generally living in work. I am going to see 
Lehmann tomorrow and many things may come of it. I cannot ex 
press to you what it is to feel the grip of the great wheel of real life 
on you for the first time. For the first time I know what is meant by 
the word "enemies" men who deliberately dislike you and oppose 

* This book was never written nor even, I think, "begun. 

146 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

your careerand the funny thing is that I don't dislike them at all 
myself. Poor devilsvery likely they want to be married in June too. 
I am a Socialist, but I love this fierce old world and am beginning 
to find a beauty in making money (in moderation) as in making 
statues. Always through my head one tune and words of Kipling set 
to it. 

"They passed one resolution, your sub-committee believe 
You can lighten the curse of Adam when youVe light 
ened the curse of Eve. 
And till we are built like angels, with hammer and 

chisel and pen 

We'll work for ourselves and a v/oman, for ever and 
ever Amen." 

ii, Warwick Gardens, W. 

(postmark: March 4, 1901) 

... I have delayed this letter in a scandalous manner because I 
hoped I might have the arrangements with the Daily News to tell 
you; as that is again put off, I must tell you later. The following, 
however, are grounds on which I believe everything will turn out 
right this year. It is arithmetic. "The Speaker" has hitherto paid me 
70 a year, that is 6 a month. It has now raised it to 10 a 
month, which makes 120 a year. Moreover they encourage me 
to write as much as I like in the paper, so that assuming that I do 
something extra (poem, note, leader) twice a month or every other 
number, which I can easily do, that brings us to nearly 150 a 
year. So much for "The Speaker." Now for the "Daily News/' both 
certainties and probabilities. Hammond (to whom you will favour 
me by being eternally grateful) pushed me so strongly with Leh- 
mann for the post of manager of the literary page that it is most 
probable that I shall get it. ... If I do, Hammond thinks they 
couldn't give me less than 200 a year. So that if this turns out 
right, we have 350, say, without any aid from "Bookman," books, 
magazine articles or stories. 

Let us however, put this chance entirely on one side and suppose 
that they can give me nothing but regular work on the "Daily 
News/' I have just started a set of popular fighting articles on lit 
erature in the "Daily News" called "The Wars of Literature." They 
will appear at least twice a week, often three times. For each of 
these I am paid about a guinea and a half. This makes about 3 

Who is G.K.C.? 147 

a week which is 144 a year. Thus with only the present certain 
ties of "Speaker" and "Daily News" we have 264 a year, or very 
likely (with extra "Speaker" items) 288, close on 300. This 
again may be reinforced by all sorts of miscellaneous work which I 
shall get now my name is getting known, magazine articles, help 
ing editors or publishers, reading Mss. and so on. In all these calcu 
lations I have kept deliberately under the figures, not over them: 
so that I don't think I have failed altogether to bring my promise 
within reasonable distance of fact already. Belloc suggested that I 
should write for the "Pilot" and as he is on it, he will probably get 
me some work. Hammond has become leader-writer on the "Echo" 
and will probably get me some reviewing on that. And between our 
selves, to turn with intense relief, from all this egotism, Hammond 
and I have a little scheme on hand for getting Oldershaw a kind of 
editorial place on the "Echo" where they want a brisk but cultivated 
man of the world. I think we can bring it off: it is a good place for 
an ambitious young man. It would give me more happiness than I 
can say, while I am building my own house of peace, to do some 
thing for the man who did so much in giving me my reason for it. 

For well Thou knowest, O God most wise 
How good on earth was his gift to me 
Shall this be a little thing in thine eyes 
That is greater in mine than the whole great sea? 

I am afraid . . . that this is a very dull letter. But you know what 
I am. I can be practical, but only deliberately, by fixing my mind on 
a thing. In this letter, I sum up my last month's thinking about 
money resources. I haven't given a thought yet to the application 
and distribution of them in rent, furniture, etc. When I have done 
thinking about that you will get another dull letter. I can keep ten 
poems and twenty theories in my head at once. But I can only 
think of one practical thing at a time. The only conclusion of this 
letter is that on any calculation whatever, we ought to have 300 
a year, and be on the road to four in a little while. With this before 
you I daresay you (who are more practical than I) could speculate 
and suggest a little as to the form of living and expenditure. . . . 

Gilbert's mother perhaps needed more convincing. The letter 
to her has no postmark but the 300 a year has grown to almost 
500 and a careful economy is promised. 

Who is G.K.C.? 147 

a week which is 144 a year. Thus with only the present certain 
ties of "Speaker" and "Daily News" we have 264 a year, or very 
likely (with extra "Speaker" items) 288, close on 300. This 
again may be reinforced by all sorts of miscellaneous work which I 
shall get now my name is getting known, magazine articles, help 
ing editors or publishers, reading Mss. and so on. In all these calcu 
lations I have kept deliberately under the figures, not over them: 
so that I don't think I have failed altogether to bring my promise 
within reasonable distance of fact already. Belloc suggested that I 
should write for the "Pilot" and as he is on it, he will probably get 
me some work. Hammond has become leader-writer on the "Echo" 
and will probably get me some reviewing on that. And between our 
selves, to turn with intense relief, from all this egotism, Hammond 
and I have a little scheme on hand for getting Oldershaw a kind of 
editorial place on the "Echo" where they want a brisk but cultivated 
man of the world. I think we can bring it off: it is a good place for 
an ambitious young man. It would give me more happiness than I 
can say, while I am building my own house of peace, to do some 
thing for the man who did so much in giving me my reason for it. 

For well Thou knowest, O God most wise 
How good on earth was his gift to me 
Shall this be a little thing in thine eyes 
That is greater in mine than the whole great sea? 

I am afraid . . . that this is a very dull letter. But you know what 
I am. I can be practical, but only deliberately, by fixing my mind on 
a thing. In this letter, I sum up my last month's thinking about 
money resources. I haven't given a thought yet to the application 
and distribution of them in rent, furniture, etc. When I have done 
thinking about that you will get another dull letter. I can keep ten 
poems and twenty theories in my head at once. But I can only 
think of one practical thing at a time. The only conclusion of this 
letter is that on any calculation whatever, we ought to have 300 
a year, and be on the road to four in a little while. With this before 
you I daresay you (who are more practical than I) could speculate 
and suggest a little as to the form of living and expenditure. . . . 

Gilbert's mother perhaps needed more convincing. The letter 
to her has no postmark but the 300 a year has grown to almost 
500 and a careful economy is promised. 

Who is G.K.C.? 149 

Wars of Literature." That makes nearly 300. With the Man 
chester Sunday Chronicle I have just made a bargain by which I 
shall get 72, a year. This makes 370 a year altogether* The 
matter now, I think, largely depends on Reynolds' Newspaper. If I 
do, as is contemplated, weekly articles and thumbnail sketches, they 
cannot give me less than 100 a year. This would bring the whole 
to 470 a year, or within 30 of your standard. Of course I know 
quite well that this is not like talking of an income from a business 
or a certain investment. But we should live a long way within this 
income, if we took a very cheap flat, even a workman's fiat if neces 
sary, had a woman in to do the laborious daily work and for the 
rest waited on ourselves, as many people I know do in cheap flats. 
Moreover, journalism has its ups as well as downs, and I, I can 
fairly say, am on the upward wave. Without vanity and in a purely 
businesslike spirit I may say that my work is talked about a great 
deal. It is at least a remarkable fact that every one of the papers I 
write for (as detailed above) came to me and asked me to do work 
for them: from the Daily JXfews down to the Manchester Sunday 
Chronicle. I have, as I say, what seems to me a sufficient income for 
a start. That I shall have as good and better I am as certain as that 
I sit here. I know the clockwork of these papers and among one set 
of them I might almost say that I am becoming the fashion. 

Do not, please, think that I am entertaining this idea without 
realising that I shall have to start in a very serious and economical 
spirit. I have worked it out and I am sure we could live well within 
the above calculations and leave a good margin. 

I make all these prosaic statements because I want you to under 
stand that I know the risks I think of running. But it is not any 
practical question that is distressing me: on that I think I see my 
way. But I am terribly worried for fear you should be angry or 
sorry about all this. I am only kept in hope by the remembrance that 
I had the same fear when I told you of my engagement and that you 
dispelled it with a directness and generosity that I shall not forget 
I think, my dear Mother, that we have always understood each 
other really. We are neither of us very demonstrative: we come of 
some queer stock that can always say least when it means most Bet 
I do think you can trust me when I say that I think a thing really 
right, and equally honestly admit that I can hardly explain why. 
To explain why I know it is right would be to communicate Ae 
incommunicable, and speak of delicate and sacred things in bald 

150 (filbert Keith Chesterton 

words. The most I can say is that I know Frances like the back of 
my hand and can tell without a word from her that she has never 
recovered from a wound * and that there is only one kind of peace 
that will heal it 

I have tried to explain myself in this letter: I can do it better in 
a letter, somehow, but I do not think I have done it very success 
fully. However, with you it does not matter and it never will matter, 
how my thoughts come tumbling out. You at least have always 
understood what I meant. 

Always your loving son, 


* Gertrude's death. 

Married Life in London 

The suburbs are commonly Deferred to as prosaic. Tliat is 
a -matter of taste. Personally 1 find them intoxicating. 

Introduction to Literary London. 

THE WEDDING DAY drew near and the presents were pour: 
ing in. 

"I feel like the young man in, .iteJGospel,"- said Gilbert to 
Annie Firmin, "sorrowful, because , Jiaye*.great,pQSsessiQiisJL 

^ConracT Noel mailed Gribert_jad ^jJ^ 
Parish Church on June 2,8,* 1,901^ A^sjGiJ^jrtJ^^lt down the 
price ticket on the sole of one^ of his^nev^^hoes Jbecame plainly 
visible. Annie caught TWrs. Chsterton/sje^e and they began to 
laugh helplessly. Annie thinks, too, that for once in * 
Gilbert and Cecil did not arg^ji jyyt^ 

Lucian Oldershaw drove ahead to thetation with 

luggage, put it on thejrai^ 

went oflT^with the luggage^,, tke^aj^lhei^ a^ AjeJbappy 

couple appeared. Gilbert had felt it necessary to stop jmjhe way 

''in order "To drink a glass^oF^^L Jr> . jmft-^ho^^ 

revolver with^cartrMges in another/' The milk he dragpilLiecaus^, 

in childhood his mother used to giveTira^ 


dangers. TheyToHowed the luggage bjrjijs^^ 

This love oiF weapons, his revolver, his favourite sword-stick, 
remained with him all his life. It suggested the adventures that 
he always bestowed on the heroes of his stories and would him 
self] have loved to experience. He noted in Twelve Types Scott's 

152* Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

love of armour and of weapons for their own sates the tex 
ture, the power, the beauty of a sword-hilt or a jewelled dag 
ger. As a child would play with these things Gilbert played 
with them, but they stood also in his mind for freedom, adven 
ture, personal responsibility, and much else that the modern 
world had lost. 

The honeymoon was_spent on the Norfolk Broads. On the 
vaylKey^IoppecT at Ipswich "and it was lilce meeting a friend 
n a fairy-tale to find myself under the sign of the White Horse 
>n the first day of my honeymoon." Annie Firmin was staying 
n Warwick Gardens for the wedding and afterwards. Gilbert's 
irst letter, from the Norfolk Broads, began "I have a wife, a 
Diece of string, a pencil and a knife: what more can any man 
ivant on a honeymoon/' 

Asked^.oixJhis return what wallpapers he would prefer in the 
bouse - they-,Jiad,, chosen, he asked for brown paper so .that ,Jbe 
:oul^dxaw-^picture^ everywhere. He had by no means ,aban- 
to^J^SJ?L4.k a ]?.L t > an( ^ Annie remejnbers^ aa^Jllness^ during 
wluch^he asked for a long enough j>encil to draw on the ceiling. 
se . p Edwardes, Square, 

m by Mr. Boore, an old friend of Frances, wasjclos^jto 
ick^J^densr^l rememter the House well/' wrote E. C. 
Bentley later, "with its garden of old trees and its general aii 
of Georgian peace. I remember too the splendid flaming frescoes, 
lone in vivid crayons, of knights and heroes and divinities with 
#hich G.K.C. embellished the outside wall at the back, beneath 
i sheltering portico. I have often wondered whether the land 
lord charged for them as dilapidations at the end of the tenancy/ 1 
JThev were onlv in Edwardes Square for a few months and 

<6 -- ......... '^'iiW'^""-'''''''^^ ....... , ** '**' wi-*!*--" *-a*-.^... . .... .. __._ >u , . : ., rn ,- n - Tl .., rrnn fr . ..i,- luJJ ... L . CTt1atx ,-. TO , WT n nj^_...... , Overstrand Mambn^itr^^^ vvhere the rest 
their London life was spent. It was here I came to know them 

as they could 

drawing-room and dining-room together TcTmake jgne^big room; 
At one end hung an Engagement board with what Fathei 

Married Life in London 153 

as described as a "loud inscription" LEST WE FOR 
GET. Beside the engagements was pinned a poem by Hilalfe 
Felloe: " " * ~" '"'-"'-'"-- 

Frances and Gilbert have a little flat 
At eighty pounds a year and cheap at that 
Where Frances who is Gilbert's only wife 
Leads an unhappy and complaining life: 
.While Gilbert who is Frances* only man 
Put-Tup with it as gamely as he can. 

The Bellocs chose life in the country much earlier than the 
Chestertons, and an undated letter to Battersea threatens due 
reprisals in an exclusion from their country home, if the Ches 
tertons are not prepared to receive him in town at a late hour. 

Kings Land, Shipley, Horsham 

It will annoy you a good deal to hear that I am in town tomorrow 
Wednesday evening and that I shall appear at your Apartment at 
10.45 or 10.30 at earliest. P.M.! You are only just returned. You are 
hardly settled down. It is an intolerable nuisance. You heartily wish 
I had not mentioned it 

Well, you see that [arrow pointing to "Telegrams, Coolham, Sus 
sex"], if you wire there before One you can put me off, but if you 
do I shall melt your keys, both the exterior one which forms the 
body or form of the matter and the interior one which is the mystical 
content thereof. 

Also if you put flhe off I shall not have you down here ever to see 
the Oak Room, the Tapestry Room, the Green Room etc. 



Early in his Battersea life Gilbert received a note from Max 
Beerbohm, the great humourist, introducing himself and sug 
gesting a luncheon together. 

I am quite different from my writings (and so, I daresay, are you 
from yours) so that we should not necessarily fail to hit it off. 

I, in the flesh, am modest, full of commonsense, verv genial, and 
rather dull. 

154 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

What you are remains to be seen or not to be seenby me, ac 
cording to your decision. 

Gilbert's decision was for the meeting and an instant liking 
grew into a warm friendship. J\s in ^BtGrilays Gilbert Jia^^ 
written verse about his friends, so now did lie try j to sum tig an 

impression, perhaps after some special talkf ^ 

' ' "-""" " ^ 

And Max's queer crystalline sense 
Lit, like a sea beneath a sea, 
Shines through a shameless impudence 
As shameless a humility. 
Or Belloc somewhat rudely roared 
But all above him when he spoke 
The immortal battle trumpets broke 
And Europe was a single sword,* 

Somewhere about this time must have occurred the incident 
mentioned by George Bernard Shaw in a note which appeared 
in the Mark Twain Quarterly (Spring, 1937): 

I cannot remember when I first met Chesterton. I was so much 
struck by a review of Scott's Ivanhoe which he wrote for the Daily 
News in the course of his earliest notable job as feuilletonist to that 
paper that I wrote to him asking who he was and where he came 
from, as he was evidently a new star in literature. He was either too 
shy or too lazy to answer. The next thing I remember is his lunching 
with us on quite intimate terms, accompanied by Belloc. 

The actual first meeting, forgotten by Shaw, is remembered 
by Gilbert's brother-in-law, Lucian Oldershaw. He and Gilbert 
had gone together to Paris where they visited Rodin, then mak 
ing a bust of Bernard Shaw. Mr. Oldershaw introduced Gilbert 
to G.B.S., who, Rodin's secretary told them, had been endeavour 
ing to explain at some length the nature of the Salvation Army, 
leading up (one imagines) to an account of Major Barbara. At 
the end of the explanation, Rodin's secretary remarked to a 

* Unpublished fragment. 

Married Life in London 155 

rather apologetic Shaw "The Master says you have not much 
French but you impose yourself/' 

"Shaw talked Gilbert down/' Mr. Oldershaw complained. 
That the famous man should talk more than the beginner is 
hardly surprising, but all through Gilbert's life the complaint 
recurs on the lips of his admirers, just as a similar complaint is 
made by Lockhart about Sir Walter Scott. Chesterton, like Scott, 
abounded in cordial admiration of other men and women and 
had a simple enjoyment in meeting them. ^id_ChestertQriLJaz^ 
who would really ral^ 

In 1901 appeared his first book of collected essays, The D& 
fendant. The essays in it had already appeared in The Speaker. 
Like all his later work it had the mixed reception of enthusiasts 
who saw what he meant, and puzzled reviewers who took refuge 
in that blessed word "paradox/' "Paradox ought to be used/' 
said one of these, "like onions to season the salad. Mr. Chester 
ton's salad is all onions. Paradox has been defined as 'truth 
standing on her head to attract attention'. Mr. Chesterton makes 
truth cut her throat to attract attention." 

Without denying that his love of a joke led him into inde 
fensible puns and suchlike fooleries (though Mgr. Ronald Knox 
tells me he is prepared to defend all of G.K/s puns), I think 
nearly all his paradoxes were either the startling expression 
of an entirely neglected truth, or the startling re-emphasis of 
the neglected side of a truth. Once, he said: "It is a paradox, 
but it is God, and not I, who should have the credit of it/' He 
proved his case a few years later in the chapter of Orthodoxy 
called "The Paradoxes of Christianity/' What it amounted to 
was roughly this: paradox must be of the nature of things 
because of God's infinity and the limitations of the world and 
of man's mind. To us limited beings God can express His idea 
only in fragments. We can bring together apparent contradic 
tions in those fragments whereby a greater truth is suggested. 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

If we do this in a sudden or incongruous manner we startle the 
unprepared and arouse the cry of paradox. But if we will not 
do it we shall miss a great deal of truth. 

Chesterton also saw many proverbs and old sayings as con 
taining a truth which the people who constantly repeated them 
had forgotten. The world was asleep and must be awakened. 
The world had gone placidly mad and must be violently restored 
to sanity. That the methods he used annoyed some is undeni 
able, but he did force people to think, even if they raged at 
him as the unaccustomed muscles came into play. 

"I believe," he said in a speech at this date, 'Injjet^^ 
hot water . Tthink it keeps youdean/^And he believed intensely 
*mTceepIngout of a narrow stream of merely literary life. To 
those who exalted the poet above the journalist he gave this 

The poet writing his name upon a score of little pages in the 
silence of his study, may or may not have an intellectual right to 
despise the journalist: but I greatly doubt whether he would not 
morally be the better if he saw the great lights burning on through 
darkness into dawn, and heard the roar of the printing wheels 
weaving the destinies of another day. Here at least is a school of 
labour and of some rough humility, the largest work ever published 
anonymously since the great Christian cathedrals.* 

He plunged then into the life of Fleet Street and held it his 
proudest boast to be a journalist. But he had his own way of 
being a journalist: 

On the whole, I think I owe my success (as the millionaires say) 
to having listened respectfully and rather bashfully to the very best 
advice, given by all the best journalists who had achieved the best 
sort of success in journalism; and then going away and doing the 
exact opposite. For what they all told me was that the secret of 
success in journalism was to study the particular journal and write 

* "A Word for the Mere Journalist." Darlington North Star: February 3, 

Married Life in London 157 

what was suitable to it. And, partly by accident and ignorance and 
partly through the real rabid certainties of youth, I cannot remem 
ber that I ever wrote any article that was at all suitable to any paper. 
... I wrote on a Nonconformist organ like the old Daily News 
and told them all about French cafe's and Catholic cathedrals; and 
they loved it, because they had never heard of them before. I wrote 
on a robust Labour organ like the old Clarion and defended mediae 
val theology and all the things their readers had never heard of; and 
their readers did not mind me a bit* 

Mr. Titterton, who worked also on the Daily News and came 
at this time to know G.K. in the Pharos Club, says that at first 
he was rather shy of the other men on the staff but after a din 
ner at which he was asked to speak he came to know and like 
them and to be at home in Fleet Street. He liked to work amid 
human contact and would write his articles in a public-house 
or in the club or even in the street, resting the paper against a 

Frank Swinnerton records f a description given him by Charles 
Masterman of 

how Chesterton used to sit writing his articles in a Fleet St caf6, 
sampling and mixing a terrible conjunction of drinks, while many 
waiters hovered about him, partly in awe, and partly in case he 
should leave the restaurant without paying for what he had had. One 
day . . . the headwaiter approached Masterman. "Your friend/' he 
whispered, admiringly, 'The very clever man. He sit and laugh. And 
then he write. And then he laugh at what he write/' 

He loved Fleet Street and did a good deal of drinking there. 
But not only there. When (in the Autobiography') he writes of 
wine and song it is not Fleet Street and its taverns that come 
back to his mind but "the moonstruck banquets given by Mr. 
Maurice Baring/' the garden in Westminster where he fenced 
with real swords against one more intoxicated than himself, 

* Autobiography, pp. 185-6. 
t Georgian Scene, p. 94. 

158 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

songs shouted in Auberon Herbert's rooms near Buckingham 

After marriage Frances seems to have given up the struggle, 
so ardently ^pursued during their engagement, to make him tidy* 
By a stroke of genius she decided instead to make him pic 
turesque. The conventional frock-coat worn so unconvention 
ally, the silk hat crowning a mat of hair, disappeared, and a 
wide-brimmed slouch hat and flowing cloak more appropriately 
garbed him. This was especially good as he got fatter. He was a 
tall man, six foot two. As a boy he had been thin, but now^ he^ 
was rapidly putting on weight. Neither he nor Cecil played 
games (the tennis did not last!) but they used to go for long 
walks, sometimes going off together for a couple of days at a 
time. Gilbert still liked to do this with Frances, but the seden 
tary daily life and the consumption of a good deal of beer did 
not help towards a graceful figure. By 1903 G.K. was called a 
fat humourist and he was fast getting ready to be Dr. Johnson 
in various pageants. By 1906 he was then thirty-twohe had 
become famous enough to be one of the celebrities painted or 
photographed for exhibitions; and Bernard Shaw described a 
photo of him by Coburn: 

Chesterton is "our Quinbus Flestrin," the young Man Mountain, 
a large abounding gigantically cherubic person who is not oi^ly 
large in body and mind beyond all decency, but seems to be grow 
ing larger as you look at him "swellin' wisibly," as Tony Weller puts 
it. Mr. Coburn has represented him as flowing off the plate in the 
very act of being photographed and blurring his own outlines in 
the process. Also he has caught the Chestertonian resemblance to 
Balzac and unconsciously handled his subject as Rodin handled 
Balzac. You may call the placing of the head on the plate wrong, 
the focussing wrong, the exposure wrong if you like, but Chesterton 
is right and a right impression of Chesterton is what Mr. Cobum 
was driving at. 

The change in his appearance- G.K. celebrated in a stanza of 
his "Ballade of the Grotesque": 

Married Life in London 159 

I was light as a penny to spend, 

I was thin as an arrow to cleave, 
I could stand on a fishing-rod's end 

With composure, though on the qui mve\ 

But from Time, all a-flying to thieve, 
The suns and the moons of the year, 

A different shape I receive; 
The shape is decidedly queer. 

"London/' said a recently arrived American, "is the most mar 
vellously fulfilling experience. I went to see Fleet Street this 
morning, and met G. K. Chesterton face to face. Wrapped in 
a cloak and standing in the doorway of a pie-shop, he was com 
posing a poem reciting it aloud as he wrote. The most striking 
thing about the incident was that no one took the slightest 

I doubt if any writer, except Dickens, has so quickly become 
an institution as Chesterton. Nor, of course, would his pictur- 
esqueness in Fleet Street or his swift success as a journalist 
have accomplished this but for the vast output of books on every 
conceivable subject. 

But before I come to the books written during those years 
at Battersea, a word must be said of another element besides his 
journalistic contacts that was linking G.K. with a wider world 
than the solely literary. We have seen that even when his reli 
gion was at its lowest point, in the difficult Art School days, he 
never lost it entirely "I hung on to religion by one thin thread 
of thanks/' In the years of the Notebook, he advanced very far 
in his pondering on and acceptance of the great religious truths. 
But this did not as yet mean attachment to a Church. Then he 
met Frances. "She actually practised a religion. This was some 
thing utterly unaccountable both to me and to the whole fussy 
culture in which she lived/' Now that they were married, 
Frances, as a convinced 8 * Anglo-Catholic, was bringing more 
clergy and other Anglican friends into Gilbert's circle. More 
over, he was lecturing all over England, and this brought him 

160 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

into contact with all sorts of strange religious beliefs. "Amid all 
this scattered thinking ... I began to piece together fragments 
of the old religious scheme; mainly by the various gaps that 
denoted its disappearance. And the more I saw of real human 
nature, the more I came to suspect that it was really rather bad 
for all these people that it had disappeared." * 

In 1903-04 he had a tremendous battle (the detail of which 
will be treated in the next chapter) in the Clarion with Robert 
Blatchford. In it he adumbrated many of the ideas that were 
later developed in Orthodoxy. Of the arguments used by Blatch 
ford and his atheist friends, G.K. wrote that the effect on his 
own mind was: "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." 
In a diary kept by Frances spasmodically during the years 
1904-05, she notes that Gilbert has been asked to preach as the 
first of a series of lay preachers in a city church. She writes: 

March i6th. One of the proudest days of my life. Gilbert preached 
at St. Paul's, Covent Garden for the C.S.U. [Christian Social 
Union] Vox populi vox DeL A crammed church he was very 
eloquent and restrained. Sermons will be published afterwards. 

Published they were: under the title, Preachers from the Pew. 

March ^oth. The second sermon: "The Citizen, tne Gentleman and 
the Savage/' Even better than last week. 'Where there is no 
vision the people perisheth." 

When it is remembered that the Browning, the Watts, 
Twelve Types and The Napoleon of Netting Hill had all been 
published and received with acclaim, it is touching that Frances 
should speak thus of the "proudest day" of her life. That Gilbert 
should himself have vision and show it to others remained her 
strongest aspiration. Not thus felt all his admirers. The Blatch 
ford controversy on matters religious became more than many 
of them could bear. 

* Autobiography, p. 1 77. 

Married Life in London 161 

A plaintive correspondent [says the Daily News], who seems to 
have had enough of the eternal verities and the eternal other things, 
sends us the following "lines written on reading Mr. G. K. Chester 
ton's forty-seventh reply to a secularist opponent": 

What ails our wondrous "G.K.C." 

Who late, on youth's glad wings, 
Flew faixylike, and gossip'd free 

Of translunary things, 

That thus, in dull didactic mood, 

He quits the realms of dream, 
And like some pulpit-preacher rude, 

Drones on one dreary theme? 

Stern Blatchford, thou hast dashed the glee 

Of our Omniscient Babe; 
Thy name alone now murmurs he, 

Or that of dark McCabe. 

All vain his cloudy fancies swell, 

His paradox all vain, 
Obsessed by that malignant spell 

Of Blatchford on the brain. 


Mr. Noel has a livelier memory of Gilbert's religious and 
social activities. On one occasion he went to the Battersea flat 
for a meeting at which he was to speak and Gilbert take the 
chair, to establish a local branch of the Christian Social Union. 
The two men got into talk over their wine in the dining-room 
(then still a separate room) and Frances came in much agi 
tated. "Gilbert you must dress. The people will be arriving any 

"Yes, yes, I'll go/' 

The argument was resumed and went on with animation. 
Frances came back. "Gilbert, the drawing-rc)om is half full and 
people are still arriving." At last in despair she brought GiJ- 

* Daily News, 12 January, 1904. 

1 62, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

bert's dress-clothes into the dining-room and made him change 
there, still arguing. Next he had to be urged into the drawing- 
room. Established at a small table he began to draw comic bish 
ops, quite oblivious of the fact that he was to take the chair at 
the now assembled meeting. Finally Frances managed to attract 
his attention, he leaped up overthrowing the small table and 
scattering the comic bishops. 

"Surely this story/' said a friend to whom I told it, "proves 
what some people said about Chesterton's affectation. He must 
have been posing." 

I do not think so, and those who knew Gilbert best believed 
him incapable of posing. But he was perfectly capable of wilful- 
ness and of sulking like a schoolboy. It amused him to argue 
with Mr. Noel, it did not amuse him at all to take the chair at 
a meeting. So, as he was not allowed to go on arguing, he drew 
comic bishops. 

There was, too, more than a touch of this wilfulness in the 
second shock he administered to respectable Battersea later in 
the evening. An earnest young lady asked the company for 
counsel as to the best way of arranging her solitary maid's eve 
ning out. "I'm so afraid," ended the appeal, "of her going to 
the Red Lion." 

"Best place she could go," said Gilbert. And occasionally he 
would add example to precept, for society and Fleet Street were 
not the only places for human intercourse. "At present," com 
mented a journalist, "he is cultivating the local politics of Bat 
tersea; in secluded ale houses he drinks with the frequenters 
and learns their opinions on municipal milk and on Mr. John 

"Good friends and very gay companions," Gilbert calls the 
Christian Social Union group of whom, beside Conrad Noel, were 
Charles Masterman, Bishop Gore, Percy Dearmer, and above all 
Canon Scott Holland. Known as "Scotty" and adored by many 
generations of young men, he was "a man with a natural surge 

Married Life in London 163 

of laughter within him, so that his hroad mouth seemed always 
to be shut down on it in a grimace of restraint/' * Like Gilbert, 
he suffered from the effect of urging his most serious views 
with apparent flippancy and fantastic illustrations. In the course 
of a speech to a respectable Nottingham audience he remarked, 
"I dare say several of you here have never been in prison/' 

"A ghastly stare/' says Gilbert, describing this speech, "was 
fixed on all the faces of the audience; and I have ever since seen 
it in my own dreams; for it has constituted a considerable part 
of my own problem." 

Gilbert's verses, summarizing the meeting as it must have 
sounded to a worthy Nottingham tradesman, are quoted in the 
Autobiography and completed in Father Brown on Chesterton. 
I have put them together here for they show how merrily these 
men were working to change the world. 

The Christian Social Union here 
Was very much annoyed; 
It seems there is some duty 
Which we never should avoid, 
And so they sang a lot of hymns 
To help the Unemployed. 

Upon a platform at the end 
The speakers were displayed 
And Bishop Hoskins stood in front 
And hit a bell and said 
That Mr. Garter was to pray, 
And Mr. Carter prayed. 

Then Bishop Gore of Birmingham 

He stood upon one leg 

And said he would be happier 

If beggars didn't beg, 

And that if they pinched his palace 

It would take him down a peg. 

* Autoblogra^'ky J p. 169. 

164 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

He said that Unemployment 
Was a horror and a blight, 
He said that charities produced 
Servility and spite, 
And stood upon the other leg 
And said it wasn't right. 

And then a man named Chesterton 
Got up and played with water, 
He seemed to say that principles 
Were nice and led to slaughter 
And how we always compromised 
And how we didn't orter. 

Then Canon Holland fired ahead 

Like fifty cannons firing, 

We tried to find out what he meant 

With infinite enquiring, 

But the way he made the windows jump 

We couldn't help admiring. 

I understood him to remark 

(It seemed a little odd.) 

That half a dozen of his friends 

Had never heen in quod. 

He said he was a Socialist himself, 

And so was God. 

He said the human soul should be 

Ashamed of every sham, 

He said a man should constantly 

Ejaculate "I am" 

When he had done, I went outside 

And got into a tram. 

Partly perhaps to console himself for the loss of his son's daily 
company, chiefly, I imagine, out of sheer pride and joy in his 
success, Edward Chesterton started after the publication of The 
Wild Knight pasting all Gilbert's press-cuttings into volumes. 
Later I learnt that it had long been Gilbert's weekly penance 

Married Life in London 165 

to read these cuttings on Sunday afternoon at his father's house. 
Traces of his passage are visible wherever a space admits of a 
caricature, and occasionally, where it does not, the caricature is 
superimposed on the text. 

His growing fame may be seen by the growing size of these 
volumes and the increased space given to each of his books. 
Twelve Types in 1902 had a good press for a young man's work 
and was taken seriously in some important papers, but its success 
was as nothing compared with that of the Browning a year later. 
The bulk of Twelve Types, as of The Defendant, had appeared 
in periodicals, but never in his life did Gilbert prepare a volume 
of his essays for the press without improving, changing and uni 
fying. It was never merely a collection, always a book. 

Still, the Browning was another matter. It was a compliment 
for a comparatively new author to be given the commission for 
the English Men of Letters Series. Stephen Gwynn describes 
the experience of the publishers: 

On my advice the Macmillans had asked him to do Browning in 
the "English Men of Letters/' when he was still not quite arrived. 
Old Mr. Craik, the Senior Partner, sent for me and I found him in 
white fury, with Chesterton's proofs corrected in pencil; or rather 
not corrected; there were still thirteen errors uncorrected on one 
page; mostly in quotations from Browning. A selection from a Scotch 
ballad had been quoted from memory and three of the four lines 
were wrong. I wrote to Chesterton saying that the firm thought the 
book was going to "disgrace" them. His reply was like the trumpeting 
of a crushed elephant. But the book was a huge success.* 

In fact, it created a sensation and established G.K. in the 
front rank. Not all the reviewers liked it, and one angry writer 
in the Athenaeum pointed out that, not content with innumer 
able inaccuracies about Browning's descent and the events of 
his life, G.K. had even invented a line in "Mr. Sludge the 
Medium." But every important paper had not only a review but 

* Quoted in Chesterton, by Cyril Clemeixs, p. 14. 

1 66 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

a long review, and the vast majority were enthusiastic. Chester 
ton claimed Browning as a poet not for experts but for every 
man. His treatment of the Browning love affair, of the poet's 
obscurity, of "The Ring and the Book," all receive this same 
praise of an originality which casts a true and revealing light 
for his readers. As with all his literary criticism, the most famous 
critics admitted that he had opened fresh windows on the sub 
ject for themselves. 

This attack on his inaccuracy and admiration for his insight 
constantly recurs with Chesterton's literary work. Readers noted 
that in the Ballad of the White Horse he made Alfred's left wing 
face Guthrum's left wing. He was amused when it was pointed 
out, but never bothered to alter it. His memory was prodigious. 
All his friends testify to his knowing by heart pages of his 
favourite authors (and these were not few). Ten years after his 
time with Fisher Unwin, Frances told Father O'Connor that 
he remembered all the plots and most of the characters of the 
"thousands'* of novels he had read for the firm. But he trusted 
his memory too much and never verified. Indeed, when it was 
a question merely of verbal quotation he said it was pedantic 
to bother, and when latterly Dorothy Collins looked up his 
references he barely tolerated it. 

Again while he constantly declared that he was no scholar, 
he said things illuminating even to scholars. Thus, much later, 
when Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas appeared, the Master- 
General of the Dominican Order, Pre Gillet, O.P., lectured on 
and from it to large meetings of Dominicans. Mr. Eccles told 
me that talking of Virgil, G.K. said things immensely illumi 
nating for experts on Latin poetry. In a very different field, Mr. 
Oldershaw noted after their trip to Paris that though he could 
set Gilbert right on many a detail yet his generalisations were 
marvellous. He had, said Mr. Eccles, an intuitive mind. He had, 
too, read more than was realised, partly because his carelessness 
and contempt for scholarship misled. Where the pedant would 

Married Life in London 167 

have referred and quoted and cross-referred, he went dashing 
on, throwing out ideas from his abundance and caring little i 
among his wealth were a few faults of fact or interpretation. 
"Abundance'* was a word much used of his work just now, and in 
the field of literary criticism he was placed high, and had an 
enthusiastic following. We may assume that the Browning had 
something to do with Sir Oliver Lodge's asking him in the next 
year (1904) to become a candidate for the Chair of Literature 
at Birmingham University. But he bad no desire to be a pro 

Frances, in her diary, notes some of their widening contacts 
and engagements. The mixture of shrewdness and simplicity in 
her comments will be familiar to those who knew her intimately. 
Meeting her for the first time I think the main impression was 
that of the "single eye." She abounded in Gilbert's sense, as my 
mother commented after an early meeting, and ministered to 
his genius. Yet she never lost an individual, markedly feminine 
point of view, which helped him greatly, as anyone can see who 
will read all he wrote on marriage. He shows an insight almost 
uncanny in the section called, "The Mistake About Women" 
in What's Wrong with the World. "Some people/' he said in a 
speech of 1905, "when married gain each other. Some only 
lose themselves." The Chestertons gained each other. And by 
the sort of paradox he loved, Frances did so by throwing the 
stream of her own life unreservedly into the greater river of 
her husband's. She writes in her Diary, for 1904: 

Gilbert and I meet -all sorts of queer, well-known, attractive, un 
attractive people and I expect this book will be mostly about 
them. . . . 

Feb. 1 7th. We went together to Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Colvin's 
"At home/' It was rather jolly but too many clever people there to 
be really nice. The clever people were Mr. Joseph Conrad, Mr. 
Henry James, Mr. Laurence Binyon, Mr. Maurice Hewlett, and a 
great many more. Mr. and Mrs. Colvin looked so happy. 

Feb. 23rd. Gilbert went as Mr. Lane's guest to a dinner of the 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

"Odd Volumes" at the Imperial Restaurant. The other guest was 
Baden Powell. He and Gilbert made speeches. . . . 

March 8th. Gilbert was to speak on "Education" at a C.S.U. 
meeting at Sion College, but a debate on the Chinese Labour in 
South Africa was introduced instead and went excitingly. There is 
to be a big meeting of the C.S.U. to protest. Though I suppose it's 
all no good now. When the meeting was over we adjourned to a 
tea-shop and had immense fun. Gilbert, Percy Dearmer and Conrad 
Noel walked together down Fleet Street, and never was there a 
funnier sight. Gilbert's costume consisted of a frock coat, huge felt 
hat and walking stick brandished in the face of the passers-by, to 
their exceeding great danger. Conrad was dressed in an old lounge 
suit of sober grey with a clerical hat jauntily stuck on the back of 
his head (which led someone to remark, "Are you here in the 
capacity of a private gentleman, poor curate, or low-class actor?"). 
Mr. Dearmer was clad in wonderful clerical garments of which he 
alone possesses the pattern, which made him look like a Chaucer 
Canterbury Pilgrim or a figure out of a Noah's ark. They swaggered 
down the roadway talking energetically. At tea we talked of many 
things, the future of the "Commonwealth" chiefly . . . 

March 22nd. Meeting of Christian Theosophical Society at which 
Gilbert lectured on "How Theosophy appears to a Christian." He 
was very good. Herbert Burrows vigorously attacked him in debate 
afterwards . . . Napoleon of Notting Hill was published. 

April 27th. The Bellocs and the Noels came here to dinner. 
Hilaire in great form recited his own poetry with great enthusiasm 
the whole evening . . . 

May pth. The Literary Fund Dinner. About the greatest treat 
I ever had in my life. J. M. Barrie presided. He was so splendid and 
so complimentary. Mrs. J. M. Barrie is very pretty, but the most 
beautiful woman there was Mrs. Anthony Hope copper coloured 
hair, masses, with a wreath of gardenias green eyes and a long neck, 
very beautiful figure. The speakers were Barrie, Lord Tennyson, 
Comyns Carr, A. E. W. Mason, Mrs. Craigie (who acquitted her 
self wonderfully) and Mrs. Flora Annie Steel. After the formal din 
ner was a reception at which everyone was very friendly. It is 
wonderful the way in which they all accept Gilbert, and one well- 
known man told me he was the biggest man present. Anyhow there 
was the feeling of brotherhood and fellowship in the wielding of 
"the lovely and loathely pen" (J. M. Barrie's speech). 

Married Life in London 169 

May 1 2th. Went to see Max Beerbohm's caricature of Gilbert 
at the Carfax Gallery. "G.K.C.-Humanist-Kissing the World" 
It's more like Thackeray, very funny though. 

June pth. A political "at home" at Mrs. Sidney Webb's Saw 
Winston Churchill and Lloyd George. Politics and nothing but poli 
tics is dull work though, and an intriguer's life must be a pretty poor 
affair. Mrs. Sidney Webb looked very handsome and moved among 
her guests as one to the manner born. I like Mrs. Leonard Courtenay 
who is always kind to me. Charlie Masterman and I had a long 
talk on the iniquities of the "Daily News" and goodness knows they 
are serious enough. 

June 22nd. An "at home" at Mrs. 's proved rather a dull 

affair save for a nice little conversation with Watts Dunton. His 
walrusy appearance which makes the bottom of his face look fierce, 
is counteracted by the kindness of his little eyes. He told us the inner 
story of Whistler's "Peacock Room" which scarcely redounds to 
Whistler's credit. The Duchess of Sutherland was there and many 

notabilities. Between ourselves Mr. is a good-hearted snob. His 

wife nice, intelligent, but affected (I suppose unconsciously), I 
don't really like the "precious people/' They worry me. 

June 30th. Graham Robertson's "at home" was exceedingly se 
lect. I felt rather too uncultivated to talk much. Mr. Lane tucked 
his arm into mine and requested to know the news which means, 
"tell me all your husband is doing, or going to do, how much is he 
getting, who will publish for him, has he sold his American rights, 
etc." Cobden's three daughters looked out of place, so solid and 
sincere are they. It was all too grand. No man ought to have so 
much wealth. 

July 5th. Gilbert went today to see SwinburneI think he found 
it rather hard to reconcile the idea with the man, but he was 
interested, though I could not gather much about the visit. He was 
amused at the compliments which Watts Dunton and Swinburne 
pay to each other unceasingly. 

December 8th. George Alexander has an idea that he wants Gil 
bert to write a play for him, and sent for him to come and see him. 
He was apparently taken with the notion of a play on the Crusades, 
and although there is at present no love incident in Gilbert's mind, 
Alexander introduced and acted the supposed love scene with great 
spirit. It may come off some day perhaps. 

December 3ist. H. Belloc's been very ill but is better, thank God. 

170 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 


Feb. i st. Gilbert, a guest at the "Eighty Club" dinner. Rhoda 
and I went to after dinner speeches. G. W. E. Russell (Chair). 
Augustine Birrell guest and Sir Henry Fowler. It amused me hugely. 
Russell so imprudent and reckless, Birrell so prudent and incapable 
of giving himself away, Sir Henry Fowler so commonplace and 
trite. He looked so wicked. I thought of Mr. Haldane's story of 
Fowler's fur coat and his single remark on examining it: "skunk." 

Feb. nth. Rather an interesting lunch at Mrs. J. R. Green's. 
Jack Yeats and Mrs. Thursby were there. The atmosphere is too 
political and I imagine Mrs. Green to be a bit of a wire-puller, 
though I believe a nice woman. 

Feb. 24th. Mr. Halliwell Sutcliffe came over. He is amusing and 
nice. Very puzzled at Gilbert's conduct, which on this particular 
occasion was peculiarly eccentric. 

March 9th. I had an amusing lunch at the Hotel Cecil with 
Miss Bisland (representative of McClure). Evidently thinks a lot of 
Gilbert and wants his work for McClure. O ye gods and little fishes! 
The diplomatic service ought to be all conducted by women. I 
offered her Margaret's poems in exchange for a short interview with 
Meredith which she wishes Gilbert to undertake. 

March i4th, Gilbert dined at the Buxtons, met Asquith. 

March i9th. Lienie is in town and we have been with her to 
call on the Duchess of Sutherland. When I had got used to the 
splendour it was jolly enough. Her Grace is a pretty, sweet woman 
who was very nervous, but got better under the fire of Gilbert's 
chaff. She made him write in her album which he did, a most ridicu 
lous poem of which he should be ashamed. It must be truly awful 
to live in the sort of way the Duchess does and endeavour to keep 

May 2oth. Words fail me when I try to recall the sensation 
aroused by a JJD.C. dinner. It seems so odd to think of these men as 
boys, to realize what their school life was and what a powerful ele 
ment the J.D.C. was in the lives of all. And there were husbands 
and wives, and the tie so strong, and the long, long thoughts of 
schoolboys and schoolgirls fell on us, as if the battle were still to 
come instead of raging round us. 

May 24th. We went together to see George Meredith. I suppose 
many people have seen him in his little Surrey Cottage; Flint Cot- 

Married Life in London 171 

tage, Boxhill. He has a wonderful face and a frail old body. He 
talks without stopping except to drink ginger-beer. He told us many 
stories, mostly about society scandals of some time back. I remember 
he asked Gilbert, "Do you like babies'?" and when Gilbert said, 
"Yes/' he said "So do I, especially in the comet stage." 

June 5th. Granville Barker came to see Gilbert, touching the pos 
sibility of a play. 

June 29th, A garden party at the Bishop's House, Kennington. 
The Bishop told me that A. J. Balfour was very impressed with 
"Heretics." Guild of St. Matthew Service and rowdy supper. Gilbert 
made an excellent speech. 

July 5th. Gilbert dined at the Asquiths; met Rosebery. I think 
he hated it. 

July 1 6th. Gilbert went to see Mrs. Grenfell at Taplow. He met 
Balfour, Austen Chamberlain and George Wyndham. Had an amus 
ing time, no doubt. Says Balfour is most interesting to talk to but 
appears bored. George Wyndham is delightful. 

One felt always with both Frances and Gilbert that this 
society life stayed on the surface amusing, distracting, some 
times welcome, sometimes boring but never infringing the 
deeper reality of their relationships with old friends, with their 
own families, with each other. Frances wrote endless business 
and other letters for them both: in just a handful, mainly to 
Father O'Connor, does she show her deeper life of thought 
and feeling. Gilbert had little time now for writing anything but 
books and articles. Never a very good correspondent he had be 
come an exceedingly bad one. Annie Firmin's engagement to 
Robert Kidd produced one of the few letters that exist. It is hand 
written and undated. 

A Restaurant somewhere. 

I have thought of you, I am quite certain, more often than I have 
of any human being for a long time past except my wife who 
recalls herself continually to me by virtues, splendours, agreeable 
memories, screams, pokers, brickbats and other things. And yet, 
though whenever my mind was for an instant emptied of theology 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

and journalism and patriotism and such rot, it has been immediately 
filled with you, I have never written you a line. 

I am not going to explain this and for a good reason. It is a part 
of the Mystery of the Male, and you will soon, even if you do not 
already, get the hang of it, by the society of an individual who 
while being unmistakably a much better man than I am, is never 
theless male. I can only say that when men want a thing they act 
quite differently to women. We put off everything we want to do, 
in the ordinary way. If the Archangel Michael wrote me a compli 
mentary letter tomorrow (as perhaps he may) I should put it in my 
pocket, saying, "How admirable a reply shall I write to that in a 
week or a month or so." I put off writing to you because I wanted 
to write something that had in it all that you have been, to me, to 
all of us. And now instead I am scrawling this nonsense in a tavern 
after lunch. 

My very dear old friend, I am of a sex that very seldom takes 
real trouble, that forgets the little necessities of time, that is by 
nature lazy. I never wanted really but one thing in my life and that 
I got. Any person inspecting 60 Overstrand Mansions may see that 
somewhat excitable thing free of charge. In another person, whom 
with maddening jealousy I suspect of being some inches taller than 
I am, I believe I notice the same tendency towards monomania. He 
also, being as I have so keenly pointed out, male, he alsoI think 
has only wanted one thing seriously in his life. He also has got it: 
another male weakness which I recognize with sympathy. 

All my reviewers call me frivolous. Do you think all this kind of 
thing frivolous? Damn it all (excuse me) what can one be but 
frivolous about serious things? Without frivolity they are simply too 
tremendous. That you, who, with your hair down your back, played 
at bricks with me in a house of which I have no memory except 
you and the bricks, that you should be taken by someone of my 
miserable sex as you ought to be what is one to say? I am not 
going to wish you happiness, because I am quite placidly certain 
that your happiness is inevitable. I know it because my wife is happy 
with me and the wild, weird, extravagant, singular origin of this is 
a certain enduring fact in my psychology which you will find 
paralleled elsewhere. 

God bless you, my dear girl. 

Yours ever, 


Married Life in London 173 

Married in 1903, Annie and her husband took another flat in 
Overstrand Mansions. 

''Gilbert never cared what he wore/' she writes. "I remember 
one night when my husband and I were living in the same block 
of flats he came in to ask me to go and sit with Frances who 
wasn't very well, while he went down to the House to dine with 
Hugh Law Gilbert was very correctly dressed except for the fact 
that he had on one boot and one slipper! I pointed it out to him, 
and he said: T)o you think it matters?' I told him I was sure 
Frances would not like him to go out like that the only argu 
ment to affect him! When he was staying with me here in Van 
couver, Dorothy Collins had to give him the once-over before he 
went lecturing they had left Frances in Palos Verdes as she 
wasn't well." 

In 1904, were published a monograph on Watts, The Napo 
leon of Notting Hill and an important chapter in a composite 
book, England a Nation. 

The Watts is among the results of Gilbert's art studies. Its 
reviewers admired it somewhat in the degree of their admira 
tion for the painter. But for a young man at that date to have 
seen the principles of art he lays down meant rare vision. The 
portrait-painter, he says, is trying to express the reality of the 
man himself but "he is not above taking hints from the book of 
life with its quaint old woodcuts/' G.K. ihakes us see all the 
painter could have thought or imagined as he sets us before 
"Mammon" or "Jonah" or "Hope," and bids us read their legend 
and note the texture and lines of the painting. His distinction 
between the Irish mysticism of Yeats and the English mysticism 
of Watts is especially valuable, and the book, perhaps even 
more than the Browning or the Dickens, manifests Gilbert's 
insight into the mind of the last generation. The depths 
and limitations of the Victorian outlook may be read in 
G. K Watts. 

The story of the writing of The Napoleon was told me in 

174 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

part by Frances, while part appeared in an interview * given by 
Gilbert, in which he called it his first important book: 

I was "broke" only ten shillings in my pocket. Leaving my wor 
ried wife, I went down Fleet Street, got a shave, and then ordered 
for myself, at the Cheshire Cheese, an enormous luncheon of my 
favourite dishes and a bottle of wine. It took my all, but I could then 
go to my publishers fortified. I told them I wanted to write a book 
and outlined the story of "Napoleon of Notting Hill." But I must 
have twenty pounds, I said, before I begin. 

'We will send it to you on Monday." 

"If you want the book," I replied, "you will have to give it to me 
today as I am disappearing to write it." Thev gave it. 

Frances meanwhile sat at home thinking, as she told me, hard 
thoughts of his disappearance with their only remaining coin. 
And then dramatically he appeared with twenty golden sover 
eigns and poured them into her lap. Referring to this incident 
later, Gilbert said, * What a fool a man is, when he comes to the 
last ditch, not to spend the last farthing to satisfy the inner man 
before he goes out to fight a battle with wits." But it was his way 
to let the money shortage become acute and then deal with it 
abruptly. Frank Swinnerton relates that when, as a small boy, he 
was working for J. M. Dent, Gilbert appeared after office hours 
with a Dickens preface but refused to leave it because Swinner 
ton, the only soul left in the place, could not give him the agreed 

The Napoleon is the story of a war between the London 
suburbs, and grew largely from his meditations on the Boer 
War. Besides being the best of his fantastic stories, it contains 1 
the most picturesque account of Chesterton's social philosophy 
that he ever gave. But it certainly puzzled some of the critics. 
One American reviewer feels that he might have understood the 
book if he "had an intimate knowledge of the history of the 
various boroughs of London and of their present-day character- 

* Quoted in Chesterton, by Cyril Clemens, pp. 16-17. 

Married Life in London 175 

istics." Others treat the story as a mere joke, and many feel that 
it is a bad descent after the Browning. 'Too infernally clever for 
anything/' says one. 

Auteron Quin, King of England, chosen by lot (as are all 
kings and all other officials by the date of this story, which is a 
romance of the future), is one of the two heroes of this book. 
He is simply a sense of humour incarnate. His little elfish face 
and figure was recognised by old Paulines as suggested by a 
form master of their youth; but by the entire reviewing world 
as Max Beerbohm. The illustrations by Graham Robertson were 
held to be unmistakably Max. Frances notes in her diary: 

A delightful dinner party at the Lanes. . . . The talk was mostly 
about Napoleon. Max took me in to dinner and was really nice. He 
is a good fellow. His costume was extraordinary. Why should an 
evening waistcoat have four large white pearl buttons and why 
should he look that peculiar shape? He seems only pleased at the 
way he has been identified with King Auberon. "All right, my dear 
chap/' he said to G., who was trying to apologize. "Mr. Lane and I 
settled it all at a lunch/' I think he was a little put out at finding 
no red carpet put down for his royal feet and we had quite a dis 
cussion as to whether he ought to precede me into the dining room. 
Graham Robertson was on my left. He was jolly too, kept on pro 
ducing wonderful rings and stones out of his pockets. He said he 
wished he could go about covered in the pieces of a chandelier. 
The other guests were Lady Seton, Mrs. W. K. Clifford, Mr. W. W. 
Howells and his daughter (too Burne-Jonesy to be really attractive), 
Mr. Taylor (police magistrate), and Mrs. Eichholz (Mrs. Lane's 
mother) who is more beautiful than anything except a wee baby. 
In fact, she looks exactly like one, so dainty and small. She can 
never at any time have been as pretty as she is now. 

Gilbert and Max and I drove to his house (Max's), where he 
basely enticed us in. He gave me fearful preserved fruits which 
ruined my dress but he made himself very entertaining. Home 1.30. 

Caring for nothing in the world but a joke, King Auberon 
decrees that the dull and respectable London boroughs shall 
be given city guards in resplendent armour, each borough to 

176 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

have its own coat of arms, its city walls, tocsin, and the like. 
The idea is taken seriously by the second hero, Adam Wayne 
of Netting Hill, an enthusiast utterly lacking any sense of 
humour who goes to war with the other boroughs of London to 
protect a small street which they have designed to pull down 
in the interests of commercial development. Pimlico, Kensing 
ton and the rest attack Netting Hill. Men bleed and die in the 
contest and by the magic of the sword the old ideas of local 
patriotism and beauty in civic life return to England. The con 
ventional politician, Barker, who begins the story in a frock-coat 
and irreproachable silk hat, ends it clad in purple and gold. 

When Notting Hill, become imperial minded, goes down to 
destruction in a sea of blood, Auberon Quin confesses to Wayne 
that this whole story, so full of human tragedy and hopes and 
fears, had been merely the outcome of a joke. To him all life 
was a joke, to Wayne an epic; and this antagonism between 
the humorist and the fanatic has created the whole wild story. 
Wayne has the last word: 

"I know of something that will alter that antagonism, something 
that is outside us, something that you and I have all our lives per 
haps taken too little account of. The equal and eternal human being 
will* alter that antagonism, for the human being sees no real antago 
nism between laughter and respect, the human being, the common 
man, whom mere geniuses like you and me can only worship like 
a god. When dark and dreary days come, you and I are necessary, 
the pure fanatic, the pure satirist. We have between us remedied a 
great wrong. We have lifted the modern cities into that poetry which 
every one who knows mankind knows to be immeasurably more 
common than the commonplace. But in healthy people there is no 
war between us. We are but the two lobes of the brain of a plough 
man. Laughter and love are everywhere. The cathedrals, built in 
the ages that loved God, are full of blasphemous grotesques. The 
mother laughs continually at the child, the lover laughs continually 
at the lover, the wife at the husband, the friend at the friend. 
Auberon Quin, we have been too long separated; let us go out 
together. You have a halberd and I a sword, let us start our wander- 

Married Life in London 177 

ings over the world. For we are its two essentials. Come, it is already 
day/' y 

In the tlank white light Auberon hesitated a moment. Then he 
made the formal salute with his halberd, and they went away 
together into the unknown world. * 

This is very important to the understanding of Chesterton. 
With him, profound gravity and exuberant fooling were always 
intermingled and some of his deepest thoughts are conveyed by 
a pun. He always claimed to be intensely serious while hating 
to be solemn and it was a mixture apt to be misunderstood. If 
gravity and humour are the two lobes of the average man's 
brain, the average man does not bring them into play simultane 
ously to anything like the extent that Chesterton did. 

Auberon Quin and Adam Wayne are the most living indi 
viduals in any of his novels just because they are the two lobes 
of his brain individualised. All his stories abound in adventure, 
are admirable in their vivid descriptions of London or the 
countryside of France or England seen in fantastic visions. They 
are living in the portrayal of ideas by the road of argument. 
But the characters are chiefly energies through whose lips Gil 
bert argues with Gilbert until some conclusion shall be reached. 

In 1905 came The Club of Queer Tradesleast good of the 
fantasiaand even admirers have begun to wonder if too many 
fields are being tried; in 1906, Dickens and Heretics. 

It will remain a moot point whether the Browning or the 
Dickens is Chesterton's best work of literary criticism. The Dick 
ens is the more popular, largely because Dickens is the more 
popular author. Most Dickens idolators read anything about 
their idol if only for the pleasure of the quotations. And no 
Dickens idolator could fail to realise that here was one even more 
rapt in worship than himself. After the publication of Charles 
Dickens, Chesterton undertook a series of prefaces to the novels. 
In one of them he took the trouble to answer one only of tbe 

*Pp. 300-301. 

178 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

criticisms the book had produced: the comment that he was 
reading into the work of Dickens something that Dickens did 
not mean. 

Criticism does not exist to say about authors the things that they 
knew themselves. It exists to say the things about them which they 
' did not know themselves. If a critic says that the Iliad has a pagan 
rather than a Christian pity, or that it is full of pictures made by 
one epithet, of course he does not mean that Homer could have said 
that. If Homer could have said that the critic would leave Homer 
to say it. The function of criticism, if it has a legitimate function 
at all, can only be one function that of dealing with the subcon 
scious part of the author's mind which only the critic can express, 
and not with the conscious part of the author's mind, which the 
author himself can express. Either criticism is no good at all (a very 
defensible position) or else criticism means saying about an author 
the very things that would have made him jump out of his boots.* 

He attended not at all to the crop of comments on his inac 
curacies. One reviewer pointed out that Chesterton had said 
that every postcard Dickens wrote was a work of art; but Dickens 
died on June pth, 1870 and the first British postcard was issued 
on October ist, 1870. "A wonderful instance of Dickens's never- 
varying propensity to keep ahead of his age." After all, what 
did such things matter? Bernard Shaw, however, felt that they 
did. He wrote a letter from which I think Gilbert got an impor 
tant hint, utilized later in his introduction to David Copperfield: 

6th September, 1906. 

As I am a supersaturated Dickensite, I pounced on your book 
and read it, as Wegg read Gibbon and other authors, right slap 

In view of a second edition, let me hastily note for you one or 
two matters. First and chiefly, a fantastic and colossal howler in 
the best manner of Mrs. Nickleby and Flora Pinching. 

There is an association in your mind (well founded) between the 

* Introduction to "Old Curiosity Shop." Reprinted in Criticisms and Appre 
ciations of the Works of Charles Dickens, 1933 ed. pp. 51-2. 

Married Life in London 179 

quarrel over Dickens's determination to explain his matrimonial 
difficulty to the public, and the firm of Bradbury and Evans. There 
is also an association (equally well founded) between B. & E. and 
Punch. They were the publishers of Punch* But to gravely tell the 
XX century that Dickens wanted to publish his explanation in 
Punch is gas and gaiters carried to an incredible pitch of absurdity. 
The facts are: B. & E. were the publishers of Household Words. 
They objected to Dickens explaining in H.W. He insisted. They 
said that in that case they must take H.W. out of his hands. Dickens, 
like a lion threatened with ostracism by a louse in. his tail, pub 
lished his explanation, which stands to this day, and informed his 
readers that they were to ask in future, not for Household Words, 
but for All the Year Round. Household Words, left Dickensless, 
gasped for a few weeks and died. All the Year Round, in exactly the 
same format, flourished and entered largely into the diet of my youth. 

There is a curious contrast between Dickens's sentimental indis 
cretions concerning his marriage and his sorrows and quarrels, and 
his impenetrable reserve about himself as displayed in his published 
correspondence. He writes to his family about waiters, about hotels, 
about screeching tumblers of hot brandy and water, and about the 
seasick man in the next berth, but never one really intimate word, 
never a real confession of his soul. David Copperfield is a failure as 
an autobiography because when he comes to deal with the grown-up 
David, you find that he has not the slightest intention of telling you 
the truth or indeed anything about himself. Even the child David 
is more remarkable for the reserves than for the revelations: he falls 
back on fiction at every turn. Clennam and Pip are the real autobi 

I find that Dickens is at his greatest after the social awakening 
which produced Hard Times. Little Dorrit is an enormous work. 
The change is partly the disillusion produced by the unveiling of 
capitalist civilization, but partly also Dickens's discovery of the gulf 
between himself as a man of genius and the public. That he did not 
realize this early is shown by the fact that he found out his wife 
before he married her as much too small for the job, and yet plumbed 
the difference so inadequately that he married her thinking he 
could go through with it. When the situation became intolerable, he 
must have faced the fact that there was something more than "in- 

180 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

compatibilities" between him and the average man and woman. Little 
Dorrit is written, like all the later books, frankly and somewhat 
sadly, de haut en has. In them Dickens recognizes that quite every 
day men are as grotesque as Bunsby. Sparkler, one of the most 
extravagant of all his gargoyles, is an untouched photograph almost. 
Wegg and Riderhood are sinister and terrifying because they are 
simply real, which Squeers and Sikes are not. And please remark 
that whilst Squeers and Sikes have their speeches written with 
anxious verisimilitude (comparatively) Wegg says, "Man shrouds 
and grapple, Mr. Venus, or she dies/' and Riderhood describes Light- 
wood's sherry (when retracting his confession) as, "I will not say a 
hocussed wine, but a wine as was far from 'elthy for the mind." 
Dickens doesn't care what he makes Wegg or Riderhood or Sparkler 
or Mr. Ps aunt say, because he knows them and has got them, and 
knows what matters and what doesn't. Fledgeby, Lammle, Jerry 
Cruncher, Trabbs's boy, Wopsle, etc. etc. are human beings as seen 
by a master. Swiveller and Mantalini are human beings as seen by 
Trabbs's boy. Sometimes Trabbs's boy has the happier touch. When 
I am told that young John Chivery (whose epitaphs you ignore 
whilst quoting Mrs. Sapsea's) would have gone barefoot through 
the prison against rules for Little Dorrit had it been paved with red 
hot ploughshares, I am not so affected by his chivalry as by Swiv- 
eller's exclamation when he gets the legacy "For she (the Mar 
chioness) shall walk in silk attire and siller hae to spare." Edwin 
Drood is no good, in spite of the stone throwing boy, Buzzard and 
Honeythunder. Dickens was a dead man before he began it. Collins 
corrupted him with plots. And oh! the Philistinism; the utter detach 
ment from the great human heritage of art and philosophy! Why not 
a sermon on that? 


Note in the Introduction to David Copperfield what G.K. 
says as to the break between the two halves of the book. He 
calls it an instance of weariness in Dickens a solitary instance. 
Is not Shaw's explanation at once fascinating and probable? 

Kate Pemgini, the daughter of Dickens, wrote two letters of 
immense enthusiasm about the took saying it was the best thing 
written about her father since Forster's biography. But she 
shatters the theory put forth by Chesterton that Dickens thrown 

Married Life in London 181 

into intimacy with a large family of girls fell in love with them 
all and happened unluckily to marry the wrong sister. At the 
time of the marriage her mother, the eldest of the sisters, was 
only eighteen, Mary between fourteen and fifteen "very young 
and childish in appearance/* Georgina eight and Helen three! 
Nothing could better illustrate the clash between enthusiasm 
and despair that fills a Chestertonian while reading any of his 
literary biographies. For so much is built on this theory which 
the slightest investigation would have shown to be baseless. 

Heretics aroused animosity in many minds. Dealing with 
Browning or Dickens a man may encounter literary prejudices 
or enthusiasms, but there is not the intensity of feeling that he 
finds when he gets into the field with his own contemporaries. 
Reviewers who had been extending a friendly welcome to a 
beginner found that beginner attacking landmarks in the world 
of letters, venturing to detest Ibsen and to ask William Archer 
whether he hung up his stocking on Ibsen's birthday, accusing 
Kipling of lack of patriotism. It is, said one angrily, "unbecom 
ing to spend most of his time criticising his contemporaries." 
"His sense of mental perspective is an extremely deficient one." 
"The manufacture of paradoxes is really one of the simplest 
processes conceivable." "Mr. Chesterton's sententious wisdom." 

In fact it was like the scene in The Napoleon of Notting 
Hill when most people present were purple with anger but an 
intellectual few were purple with laughter. And even now most 
of the reviewers seemed not to understand where G.K. stood 
or what was his philosophy. "Bernard Shaw," says one, "whom 
as a disciple * he naturally exalts." This, after a series of books 
in which G.K. had exposed, with perfect lucidity and a wealth 
of examples, a view of lif e differing from Shaw's in almost every 
particular. One reviewer clearly discerned the influence of Shaw 
in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, "but without a trace of Shaw's 
wonderful humour and perspicacity," 

* Italics mine. 

1 82, ,, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Belloc's approval was hearty. He wrote: 

I am delighted with what I have read in the Daily Mail. Hit them 
again. Hurt them. Continue to binge and accept my blessing. Give 
them hell. It is the only book of yours I have read right through. 
Which shows that I don't read anything. Which is true enough. This 
letter is written in the style of Herbert Paul. Continue to bang 
them about. 

You did wrong not to come to the South coast. Margate is a 
fraud. What looks like sea in front of it is really a bank with hardly 
any water over it. I stuck on it once in the year 1904 so I know all 
about it. Moreover the harbour at Margate is not a real harbour. 
Ramsgate round the corner has a real harbour on the true sea. In 
both towns are citizens not averse to bribes. Do not fail to go out 
in a boat on the last of the ebb as far as the Long Nose. There you 
will see the astonishing phenomenon of the tide racing down the 
North Foreland three hours before it has turned in the estuary of 
the Thames, which you at Margate foolishly believe to be the sea. 
Item no one in Margate can cook. 

Gilbert was not really concerned in this book to bang his 
contemporaries about so much as to study their mistakes and so 
discover what was wrong with modern thought. Shaw, George 
Moore, Ibsen, Wells, The Mildness of the Yellow Press, Omar 
and the Sacred Vine, Rudyard Kipling, Smart Novelists and 
the Smart Set, Joseph McCabe and a Divine Frivolity the col 
lection was a heterogeneous one. And in the introduction the 
author tells us lie is not concerned with any of these men as a 
brilliant artist or a vivid personality, but "as a Heretic that is 
to say a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ 
from mine ... as a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite 
coherent and quite wrong. I revert to the doctrinal methods of 
the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting 
something done." 

In England a Nation and even more in the study of Kipling 
in this book there is one touch of inconsistency which we shall 
meet with again in his later work. He hated Imperialism yet he 

Married Life in London 183 

glorified Napoleon; himself ardently patriotic he accused Kipling 
of lack of patriotism on the ground that a man could not at once 
love England and love the Empire. For there was a curious note 
in the anti-Imperialism of the Chesterbelloc that has not always 
been recognised. The ordinary anti-Imperialist holds that Eng 
land has no right to govern an Empire and that her leadership 
is tad for the other dominions. But the Chesterbelloc view was 
that the Dominions were inferior and unworthy of a European 
England. The phrase "suburbs of England'* (quoted in a later 
chapter) was typical. But Kipling was thrilled by those suburbs 
and Chesterton, who had as a boy admired Kipling, attacks him 
in Heretics for lack of patriotism. Puck of Pook's Hill was not 
yet written, but like Kipling's poem on Sussex it expressed a 
patriotism much akin to Gilbert's own. Remember the man who 
returned from the South African veldt to be the Squire's gar 
dener "Me that have done what IVe done, Me that have seen 
what IVe seen" that man, with eyes opened to a sense of his 
own tragedy, was speaking for Chesterton's people of England 
who "have not spoken yet." Yes, they have spoken through the 
mouth of English genius: as Langland's Piers Plowman, as 
Dickens's Sam Weller, but not least as Kipling's Tommy Atkins. 
It was a pity Chesterton was deaf to this last voice. With a better 
understanding of Kipling he might in turn have made Kipling 
understand what was needed to make England "Merrie Eng 
land" once again, have given him the philosophy that should 
make his genius fruitful. 

For the huge distinction -between Chesterton and most of his 
contemporaries lay not in the wish to get something done but 
in the conviction that the right philosophy alone could produce 
fruitful action. A parable in the Introduction shows the point 
at which his thinking had arrived. 

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about some 
thing, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire 

184 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle 
Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid 
manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, 
the value of Light. If Light be in itself good" At this point he is 
somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for 
the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go 
about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. 
But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have 
pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; 
some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted dark 
ness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a 
lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash 
municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash some 
thing. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he 
strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, today, tomorrow, or the next 
day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after 
all, that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what 
we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss 
in the dark.* 

Every year during this time at Battersea, the press books reveal 
an increasing flood of engagements. Gilbert lectures for the New 
Reform Club on "Political Watchwords," for the Midland Insti 
tute on "Modern Journalism," for the Men's Meeting of the 
South London Central Mission on "Brass Bands," for the Lon 
don Association of Correctors of the Press at the Trocadero, for 
the C.S.U. at Church Kirk, Accrington, at the Men's Service 
in the Colchester Moot Hall. He debates at the St. German's 
Literary Society, maintaining "that the most justifiable wars 
are the religious wars"; opens the Anti-Puritan League at the 
Shaftesbury Club, speaks for the Richmond and Kew branch of 
the P.N.E.U. on "The Romantic Element in Morality/' for the 
Ilkley P.S.A., on "Christianity and Materialism," and so on 
without end. All these are on a few pages of his father's collec 
tion, interspersed with clippings recording articles in reviews 
innumerable, introductions to books, interviews and contro 

* Heretics, pp. 22-3. 

Married Life in London 185 

There was almost no element of choice in these engagements. 
G.K. was intensely good-natured and hated saying No. He was 
the lion of the moment and they all wanted him to roar for 
them. In spite of the large heading, "Lest we forget/' that met 
his eye daily in the drawing-room, he did forget a great deal- 
in fact, friends say he forgot any engagement made when 
Frances was not present to write it down directly it was made. 
She had to do memory and all the practical side of life for him. 
There might have been one slight chance of making Gilbert 
responsible in these matters that chance was given to his parents 
and by them thrown away. How far it is even possible to groom 
and train a genius is doubtful: anyhow no attempt was made. 
Waited on hand and foot by his mother, never made to wash 
or brush himself as a child, personally conducted to the tailor 
as he grew older, given by his parents no money for which to 
feel responsible, not made to keep hours how could Frances 
take a man of twenty-seven, and make him over again? 

But there is, of course, a most genuine difficulty in all this, 
which Gilbert once touched on when he denied the accusation 
of absence of mind. It was, he claimed, presence of mind on 
his thoughts that made him unaware of much else. And indeed 
no man can be using his mind furiously in every direction at 
once. Anyone who has done even a little creative work, any 
one even who has lived with people who do creative work, 
knows the sense of bewilderment with which the mind comes 
out of the world of remoter but greater reality and tries to 
adjust with that daily world in which meals are to be ordered, 
letters answered, and engagements kept. What must this pain 
of adjustment not have been to a mind almost continuously 
creative? For I have never known anyone work such long hours 
with a mind at such tension as Gilbert's. 

There was no particular reason why he should have written 
his article for the Daily News as the reporter writes his at top 
speed at a late hour but he usually did. The writing of it was 

1 86 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

left till the last minute and, if at home, he would need Frances 
to get it off for him before the deadline was reached. But he 
often wrote by preference in Fleet Street at the Cheshire 
Cheese or some little pub where journalists gathered and then 
he would hire a cab to take the article a hundred yards or so to 
the Daily News office. 

The cab in those days was the hansom with its two iiuge 
wheels over which one perilously ascended, while the driver sat 
above, only to be communicated with by opening a sort of trap 
door in the roof. Gilbert once said that the imaginative English 
man in Paris would spend his days in a caf, the imaginative 
Frenchman in London would spend his driving in a han 
som. In the Napoleon, the thought of the cab moves him to 

Poet whose cunning carved this amorous cell 
Where twain, may dwell. 

E. V. Lucas, his daughter tells us, used to say that if one were 
invited to drive with Gilbert in a hansom cab it would have to 
be two cabs: but this is not strictly true. For in those days I 
drove with Gilbert and Frances too in a hansom he and I side 
by side, she on his knee. We must have given to the populace 
the impression he says any hansom would give on first view to 
an ancient Roman or a simple barbarian that the driver riding 
on high and flourishing his whip was a conqueror carrying off 
his helpless victims. 

Like the "buffers" at the Veneering election, he spent much 
of his time "taking cabs and getting about" or not even getting 
about in them, but leaving them standing at the door for hours 
on end. Calling on one publisher he placed in his hands a letter 
that gave excellent reasons why he could not keep the engage 
ment! The memory so admirable in literary quotations was not 
merely unreliable for engagements but even for such matters 
as street numbers and addresses. Edward Macdonald, who 

Married Life in London 187 

worked with him later, on G.K/s Weekly, relates how some 
months after the paper had changed its address he failed one 
day to turn up at a board meeting. 

Finally he appeared with an explanation. On calling a taxi at 
Marylebone he realized that he could not give the address, so he 
told the driver to take him to Fleet Street. There as his memory 
still refused to help, he stopped the taxi outside a tea-shop, left it 
there while he was inside, and ordering a cup of tea began to turn 
out all his pockets in the hope of finding a letter or a proof bearing 
the address. Then as no clue could be found, he told the driver to 
take him to a bookstall that stocked the paper. At the first and sec 
ond he drew blanks but at the third bought a copy of his own paper 
and thus discovered the address. 

I am not sure at what date he began to hate writing anything 
by hand. My mother treasured two handwritten letters. I have 
none after a friendship of close on thirty years. But I remember 
on his first visit to my parents' home in Surrey his calling Frances 
that he might dictate an article to her. His writing was pictorial 
and rather elaborate. "He drew his signature rather than writing 
it," says Edward Macdonald, who remembers him saying as he 
signed a cheque: With many a curve my banks I fret/ I won 
der if Tennyson fretted his." At one of our earliest meetings I 
asked him to write in my Autograph Book. It was at least five 
years before the Ballad of the White Horse appeared, but the 
lines may be found almost unchanged in the Ballad: 


(which you won't believe) 
People, if you have any prayers 

Say prayers for me. 
And bury me underneath a stone 

In the stones of Battersea. 
Bury me underneath a stone, 

With the sword that was my own; 
To wait till the holy horn is blown 

And all poor men are free. 

1 88 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

The dream went on, he said, for pages and pages. And I 
think Frances was anxious, for the mind must find rest in 

The little flat at Battersea was a vortex of requests and en 
gagements, broken promises and promises fulfilled, author's ink 
and printer's ink, speeches in prospect and speeches in memory, 
meetings and social occasions. A sincere admirer wrote during 
this period of his fears of too great a strain on his hero 
and from 1904 to 1908 the only change was an increase of 

I see that Chesterton has just issued a volume on the art of 
G. F. Watts. His novel was published yesterday. Soon his mono 
graph on Kingsley should be ready. I believe he has a book on some 
modern aspects of religious belief in the press. He is part-editor of 
the illustrated booklets on great authors issued by the Bookman. He 
is contributing prefaces and introductions to odd volumes in several 
series of reprints. He is a constant contributor to the Daily News 
and the Speaker; he is conducting a public controversy with Blatch- 
ford of the Clarion on atheism and free-thinking; he is constandy 
lecturing and debating and dining out; it is almost impossible to 
open a paper that does not contain either an article or review or 
poem or drawing of his, and his name is better known now to com 
positors than Bernard Shaw. 

Now, both physically and mentally Chesterton is a Hercules, and 
from what I hear of his methods of work he is capable of a great 
output without much physical strain; nevertheless, it is clear, I 
think, to anyone that at his present rate of production he must either 
wear or tear. No man born can keep so many irons in the fire and 
not himself come between the hammer and the anvil. It is a pitiable 
thing to have a good man spend himself so recklessly; and I repeat 
once more that if he and his friends have not the will or power to 
restrain him, then there should be a conspiracy of editors and pub 
lishers in his favour. Not often is a man like Chesterton born. He 
should have his full chance. And that can only come by study and 
meditation, and by slow, steady accumulation of knowledge and 

* Shan F. Bullock in the Chicago Evening Post, pth April, 1906. 

Married Life in London 189 

In a volume made up of Introductions written at this time 
to individual novels of Dickens, we find a passage that might 
well be Gilbert's summary of his own life: 

The calls upon him at this time were insistent and overwhelming; 
this necessarily happens at a certain stage of a successful writer's 
career. He was just successful enough to invite offers and not suc 
cessful enough to reject them . . . there was almost too much work 
for his imagination, and yet not quite enough work for his house 
keeping. . . . And it is a curious tribute to the quite curious great 
ness of Dickens that in this period of youthful strain we do not feel 
the strain but feel only the youth. His own amazing wish to write 
equalled or outstripped even his readers' amazing wish to read, 
Working too hard did not cure him of his abstract love of work. 
Unreasonable publishers asked him to write ten novels at once; but 
he wanted to write twenty novels at once. 

Thus too with Gilbert. The first eight years of his married 
life saw in swift succession the publication of ten books com 
prising literary and art criticism and biography, poetry, fiction 
(or rather fantasy), light essays and religious philosophy. All 
these were so full at once of the profound seriousness of youth, 
and of the bubbling wine of its high spirits, as to recall another 
thing Gilbert said: that Dickens was "accused of superficiality by 
those who cannot grasp that there is foam upon deep seas.** 

That was the matter in dispute about himself, and very furi 
ously disputed it was during these years. Was G.K. serious or 
merely posing, was he a great man or a mountebank, was he 
clear or obscure, was he a genius or a charlatan? "Audacious 
reconciliation/' he pleaded or rather asserted, for his tone could 
seldom be called a plea, "is a mark not of frivolity but of extreme 


A man who deals in harmonies, who only matches stars with 
angels, or lambs with spring flowers, he indeed may be frivolous; 
for he is taking one mood at a time, and perhaps forgetting each 
mood as it passes. But a man who ventures to combine an angel and 
an octopus must have some serious view of the universe. TBe man 

1 90 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

who should write a dialogue between two early Christians might 
be a mere writer of dialogues. But a man who should write a dia 
logue between an early Christian and the Missing Link would have 
to be a philosopher. The more widely different the types talked of, 
the more serious and universal must be the philosophy which talks 
of them. The mark of the light and thoughtless writer is the har 
mony of his subject matter; the mark of the thoughtful writer is its 
apparent diversity. The most flippant lyric poet might write a pretty 
poem about lambs; but it requires something bolder and graver than 
a poet, it requires an ecstatic prophet, to talk about the lion lying 
down with the lamb.* 

A man starting to write a thesis on Chesterton's sociology 
once complained bitterly that almost none of his books were 
indexed, so he had to submit to the disgusting necessity of read 
ing them all through, for some striking view on sociology might 
well be embedded in a volume of art criticism or be the very 
centre of a fantastic romance. Chesterton's was a philosophy 
universal and unified and it was at this time growing fast and 
finding exceedingly varied techniques of expression. But the 
whole of it was in a sense in each of them in each book, almost 
in each poem. As he himself says of the universe of Charles 
Dickens, "there was something in it there is in all great crea 
tive writers like the account in Genesis of the light being 
created before the sun, moon and stars, the idea before the 
machinery that made it manifest. Pickwick is in Dickens's career 
the mere mass of light before the creation of sun or moon. It is 
the splendid, shapeless substance of which all his stars are ulti 
mately made." And again, "He said what he had to say and yet 
not all he had to say. Wild pictures, possible stories, tantalising 
and attractive trains of thought, perspectives of adventure, 
crowded so continually upon his mind that at the end there 
was a vast mass of them left over, ideas that he literally had 
not the opportunity to develop, tales that he literally had not 
the time to tell" 

* G. K. Chesterton. Criticisms and Appreciations of the Works of Charles 
Dickens. Dent, 1933 pp. 68-9. 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 

GK. CHESTERTON: A CRITICISM (published anonymously in 
1908) was a challenge thrown to the world of letters, for 
it demanded the recognition of Chesterton as a force to be reck 
oned with in the modern world. As its title implied, the book was 
by no means a tribute of sheer admiration and agreement. Gilbert 
was rebuked for that love of a pun or an effective phrase that 
sometimes led him into indefensible positions. It was hotly asked 
of him that he should abandon his unjust attitude toward Ibsen. 
He was accused of calling himself a Liberal and being in fact a 
Tory. But even in differing from him the book showed him as of 
real importance, not least in the sketch given of his life and of 
the influences that had contributed to the formation of his mind. 
It did too another thing: it clarified his philosophical position 
for the world at large. For some time now many had been de 
manding such a clarification. When G.K. attacked the Utopia 
of Wells and of Shaw, both Wells and Shaw had been urgent in 
their demands that he should play fair by setting forth his own 
Utopia. When he attacked the fundamental philosophy of G. S. 
Street, Mr. Street retorted that it would be time for him to worry 
about his philosophy when G.K/s had been unfolded. CG.K.'s 
retort to this was Orthodoxy^ 

G. K. Chesterton: a Criticism far the best book that has ever 
been written about Chesterton showed at last a mind that had 
really grasped his philosophy and could even have outlined his 


192, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Utopia. Perhaps this was the less surprising as it ultimately 
turned out to have been written by his brother Cecil. 

I do not know at what stage Cecil revealed his authorship, 
but I remember that at first Frances told me only that they sus 
pected Cecil because it was from the angle of his opinions that 
the book criticised many of Gilbert's. However, I was at that 
date only an acquaintance and the truth may still have been a 
family secret. At any rate Cecil it was, and it is small wonder if 
after all those years of arguing he understood something of the 
man with whom he had been measuring forces. But he did better 
than that for he explained him to others without ever having 
resort to these arguments, which after all were more or less pri 
vate property. He explained G.K/s general philosophy from the 
Napoleon, his ideas of cosmic good from The Wild Knight and 
The Man Who Was Thursday, which had just been published 
that same year, 1908 

In this last fantastic story the group of anarchists (distin 
guished by being called after the days of the week) turn out, 
through a series of incredible adventures to be, all save one, 
detectives in disguise. The gigantic figure of Sunday before 
whom they all tremble turns from the chief of the anarchists, 
chief of the destructive forces, into what? The sub-title, "A 
Nightmare/' is needed, for Sunday would seem to be some wild 
vision, seen in dreams, not merely of forces of good, of sanity, 
of creation, but even of God Himself. 

When, almost twenty years later, The Man Who Was Thurs 
day was adapted for the stage,* Chesterton said in an interview: 

In an ordinary detective tale the investigator discovers that some 
amiable-looking fellow who subscribes to all the charities, and is 
fond of animals, has murdered his grandmother, or is a trigamist. 
I thought it would be fun to make the tearing away of menacing 
masks reveal benevolence. 

Associated with that merely fantastic notion was the one that there 
is actually a lot of good to be discovered in unlikely places, and that 

* By Ralph Neale and Mrs. Cecil Chesterton.' 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 193 

we who are fighting each other may be all fighting on the right side. 
I think it is quite true that it is just as well we do not, while the 
fight is on, know all about each other; the soul must be solitary; or 
there would be no place for courage. 

A rather amusing thing was said by Father Knox on this point. 
He said that he should have regarded the book as entirely pantheist 
and as preaching that there was good in everything if it had not been 
for the introduction of the one real anarchist and pessimist. But he 
was prepared to wager that if the book survives for a hundred years 
which it won't they will say that the real anarchist was put in 
afterwards by the priests. 

But, though I was more foggy about ethical and theological mat 
ters than I am now, I was quite clear on that issue; that there was 
a final adversary, and that you might find a man resolutely turned 
away from goodness. 

People have asked me whom I mean by Sunday. Well, I think, 
on the whole, and allowing for the fact that he is a person in a tale 
I think you can take him to stand for Nature as distinguished from 
God. Huge, boisterous, full of vitality, dancing with a hundred legs, 
bright with the glare of the sun, and at first sight, somewhat regard 
less of us and our desires. 

There is a phrase used at the end, spoken by Sunday: "Can ye 
drink from the cup that I drink of?" which seems to mean that 
Sunday is God. That is the only serious note in the book, the face 
of Sunday changes, you tear off the mask of Nature and you find 

Monsignor Knox * has called The Man Who Was Thursday 
"an extraordinary book, written as if the publisher had commis 
sioned him to write something rather like the Pilgrim's Progress 
in the style of the Pickwick Papers" which explains perhaps 
why some reviewers called it irreverent The very wildness of it 
conveys a sense of thoughts seething and straining in an effort to 
express the inexpressible. Later in his more definitely philosophi 
cal books G.K. could say calmly much that here he splashes "on 
a ten leagued canvas with brushes of comet's hair " with all the 
violent directness of a vision. 

* In the panegyric preached at Westminster Cathedral, June 27, 1936. 

194 Gilbert Keitk Chesterton 

Of that vision his brother began the interpretation in his 
challenging book. Reactions were interesting, for even those who 
wanted most ardently to say that Cecil's book should not have 
been written found that it was necessary to say it loudly and to 
say it at great length. Their very violence showed their sense of 
Chesterton as a peril even when they^abused anyone who felt 
him to be a portent. It was not the kind of contempt that is really 
bestowed on the contemptible. 

The Academy expended more than two columns saying: 

We propose to deal with the quack and leave his sycophants and 
lickspittles to themselves . . . 

One skips him in his numerous corners of third and fourth rate 
journals [e.g. The Illustrated. London News, The Bookman, Daily 
News/] and one avoids his books because they are always and inev 
itably a bore. 

Lancelot Bathurst had also dared to write of G.K. in his daily 
life as a journalist, so the article goes on: 

Let us kneel with the Hon. Lancelot at his greasy burgundy- 
stained shrine, what time the jingling hansom waits us with its roll 
ing occupant and his sword-stick and his revolver and his pockets 
stacked with penny dreadfuls. . . . 

The fact is we have in Mr. Chesterton the true product of the 
deboshed hapenny press. ... If the hapenny papers ceased to no 
tice him forthwith it seems to us more than probable that he would 
cease at once to be of the highest importance in literary circles and 
the Bishops and Members of Parliament who have honoured him 
with their kind notice would be compelled to drop him. . . . 

Mbst of the reviews were very different from this one, which 
is certainly great fun (although some few other reviewers sug 
gested that Gilbert himself wrote the Criticism). I have won 
dered whether the Academy notices of his own books, all much 
like this, were written by a personal enemy or merely by one of 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 195 

the "jolly people" as he often called them who were maddened 
by his views. 

For some years now Gilbert had been gathering in his mind 
the material for Orthodoxy. Some of the ideas we have seen 
faintly traced in the Notebook and The Coloured Lands, but 
they all grew to maturity in the atmosphere of constant con 
troversy. In a controversy with the Rev. R. J. Campbell we see, 
for instance, his convictions about the reality of sin shaping 
under our eyes. Discussing Modernism in the Nation, he ana 
lyses the difference between the true development of an idea and 
the mere changing from one idea to another. Modernism claim 
ing to be a development was actually an abandonment of the 
Christian idea. 

For the Catholic, this is among the most interesting of his 
controversies. In the course of it he refers to "the earlier works 
of Newman and the literature of the Oxford Movement" to 
support his view of the Anglican position. I have already said 
that Chesterton read far more than was usually supposed, be 
cause he read so quickly and with so little parade of learning, 
and it has been too lightly assumed that the statement in 
Orthodoxy that he avoided works of Christian Apologetic meant 
that he had not read any of the great Christian writers of the 
past. True, he was not then or at any time reading books of 
Apologetic. He must, however, have been reading something 
more life-giving, as we learn from a single hint. Asked to draw 
up a Scheme of Reading for 1908 in T.P.'s Weekly, he suggests 
Butler's Analogy, Coleridge's Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, 
Newman's Apologia, St. Augustine's Confessions and the Summa 
of St. Thomas Aquinas. 

It was absurd, he said in this article, to suppose that the 
ancients did not see our modern problems. The truth was that 
the great ancients not only saw them, but saw through them. 
Butler had sketched the "real line along which Christianity must 

196 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

ultimately be defended/* These great writers all remained mod 
ern, while the "New Theology" takes one back to the time of 
crinolines. "I almost expect to see Mr. R. J. Campbell in peg- 
top trousers, with very long side-whiskers/' 

In this controversy, although not yet a Catholic, he showed 
the gulf between the Modernist theory of development and the 
Newman doctrine, with a clarity greater than any Catholic 
writer of the time. 

A man who is always going back and picking to pieces his own 
first principles may be having an amusing time but he is not devel 
oping as Newman understood development. Newman meant that if 
you wanted a tree to grow you must plant it finally in some definite 
spot. It may be (I do not know and I do not care) that Catholic 
Christianity is just now passing through one of its numberless 
periods of undue repression and silence. But I do know this, that 
when the great flowers break forth again, the new epics and the new 
arts, they will break out on the ancient and living tree. They cannot 
break out upon the little shrubs that you are always pulling up by 
the roots to see if they are growing. 

Against R. J. Campbell he showed in a lecture on "Christi 
anity and Social Reform" how belief in sin as well as in goodness 
was more favourable to social reform than was the rather woolly 
optimism that refused to recognize evil. "The nigger-driver will 
be delighted to hear that God is immanent in him. . . . The 
sweater that ... he has not in any way become divided from 
the supreme perfection of the universe." If the New Theology 
would not lead to social reform, the social Utopia to which the 
philosophy of Wells and of Shaw was pointing seemed to 
Chesterton not a heaven on earth to be desired, but a kind of 
final hell to be avoided, since it banished all freedom and human 
responsibility. Arguing with them was again highly fruitful, and 
two subjects he chose for speeches are suggestive "The Terror 
of Tendencies" and "Shall We Abolish the Inevitable?" 

In the New Age Shaw wrote about Belloc and Chesterton and 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 197 

so did Wells, while Chesterton wrote about Wells and Shaw, 
till the Philistines grew angry, called it self-advertisement and 
log-rolling and urged that a Bill for the abolition of Shaw and 
Chesterton should be introduced into Parliament. But G.K. had 
no need for advertisement of himself or his ideas just then: he 
had a platform, he had an eager audience. Every week he wrote 
in the Illustrated London News, beginning in 1905 to do "Our 
Notebook" (this continued till his death in 1936). He was still 
writing every Saturday in the Daily News. Publishers were dis 
puting for each of his books. Yet he rushed into every religious 
controversy that was going on, because thereby he could clarify 
and develop his ideas. 

The most important of all these was the controversy with 
Blatchford, Editor of the Clarion, who had written a rationalist 
Credo, entitled God and My Neighbour. In 1903-4, he had the 
generosity and the wisdom to throw open the Clarion to the 
freest possible discussion of his views. The Christian attack was 
made by a group of which Chesterton was the outstanding figure, 
and was afterwards gathered into a paper volume called The 
Doubts of Democracy. 

One essay in this volume, written in 1903, is of primary im 
portance in any study of the sources of Orthodoxy, for it gives 
a brilliant outline of one of the main contentions of the book 
and shows even better than Orthodoxy itself what he meant by 
saying that he had first learnt Christianity from its opponents. 
It is clear that by now he believed in the Divinity of Christ. The 
pamphlet itself has fallen into oblivion and Chesterton's share 
of it was only three short essays. I think it well to quote a good 
deal from the first of these, because in it he has put in con 
centrated form and with different illustrations what he developed 
five years later. There is nothing more packed with thought in 
the whole of his writings than these essays. 

The first of all the difficulties that I have in controverting M 
Blatchford is simply this, that I shall be very largely going over his 

1 198 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

own ground. My favourite text-took of theology is God and My 
Neighbour, but I cannot repeat it in detail. If I gave each of my 
reasons for being a Christian, a vast number of them would be 
Mr. Blatchford's reasons for not being one. 

For instance, Mr. Blatchford and his school point out that there 
are many myths parallel to the Christian story; that there were 
Pagan Christs, and Red Indian Incarnations, and Patagonian Cruci 
fixions, for all I know or care. But does not Mr. Blatchford see the 
other side of the fact? If the Christian God really made the human 
race, would not the human race tend to rumours and perversions 
of the Christian God? If the centre of our life is a certain fact, would 
not people far from the centre have a muddled version of that fact? 
If we are so made that a Son of God must deliver us, is it odd that 
Patagonians should dream of a Son of God? 

The Blatchfordian position really amounts to this that because 
a certain thing has impressed millions of different people as likely 
or necessary, therefore it cannot be true. And then this bashful 
being, veiling his own talents, convicts the wretched G.K.C. of 
paradox . . . 

The story of a Christ is very common in legend and literature. 
So is the story of two lovers parted by Fate. So is the story of two 
friends killing each other for a woman. But will it seriously be 
maintained that, because these two stories are common as legends, 
therefore no two friends were ever separated by love or no two 
lovers by circumstances? It is tolerably plain, surely, that these two 
stories are common because the situation is an intensely probable 
and human one, because our nature is so built as to make them 
almost inevitable . . . 

Thus, in this first instance, when learned sceptics come to me and 
say, "Are you aware that the Kaffirs have a sort of Incarnation?" I 
should reply: "Speaking as an unlearned person, I don't know. But 
speaking as a Christian, I should be very much astonished if they 

Take a second instance. The Secularist says that Christianity has 
been a gloomy and ascetic thing, and points to the procession of 
austere or ferocious saints who have given up home and happiness 
and macerated health and sex. But it never seems to occur to him 
that the very oddity and completeness of these men's surrender make 
it look very much as if there were really something actual and solid 
in the thing for which they sold themselves. They gave up all 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 199 

pleasures for one pleasure of spiritual ecstasy. They may have been 
mad; but it looks as if there really were such a pleasure. They gave 
up all human experiences for the sake of one superhuman expe 
rience. They may have been wicked, but it looks as if there were 
such an experience. 

It is perfectly tenable that this experience is as dangerous and 
selfish a thing as drink. A man who goes ragged and homeless in 
order to see visions may be as repellant and immoral as a man who 
goes ragged and homeless in order to drink brandy. That is a quite 
reasonable position. But what is manifestly not a reasonable position, 
what would be, in fact, not far from being an insane position, would 
be to say that the raggedness of the man, and the stupefied degrada 
tion of the man, proved that there was no such thing as brandy. 

That is precisely what the Secularist tries to say. He tries to prove 
that there is no such thing as supernatural experience by pointing 
at the people who have given up everything for it. He tries to prove 
that there is no such thing by proving that there are people who 
live on nothing else. 

Again I may submissively ask: "Whose is the Paradox?" . . . 

Take a third instance. The Secularist says that Christianity pro 
duced tumult and cruelty. He seems to suppose that this proves it to 
be bad. But it might prove it to be very good. For men commit 
crimes not only for bad things, far more often for good things. For 
no bad things can be desired quite so passionately and persistently 
as good things can be desired, and only very exceptional men desire 
very bad and unnatural things. 

Most crime is committed because, owing to some peculiar com 
plication, very beautiful or necessary things are in some danger . . . 

* . And when something is set before mankind that is not only 
enormously valuable, but also quite new, the sudden vision, the 
chance of winning it, the chance of losing it, drive them mad. It 
has the same effect in the moral world that the finding of gold has 
in the economic world. It upsets values, and creates a kind of cruel 

We need not go far for instances quite apart from the instances 
of religion. When the modern doctrines of brotherhood and lib 
erality were preached in France in the eighteenth century the time 
was ripe for them, the educated classes everywhere had been grow 
ing towards them, the world to a very considerable extent welcomed 
them. And yet all that preparation and openness were unable to 

200 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

prevent the burst of anger and agony which greets anything good. 
And if the slow and polite preaching of rational fraternity in a 
rational age ended in the massacres of September, what an a fortiori 
is here! What would be likely to be the effect of the sudden drop 
ping into a dreadfully evil century of a dreadfully perfect truth? 
What would happen if a world baser than the world of Sade were 
confronted with a gospel purer than the gospel of Rousseau"? 

The mere flinging of the polished pebble of Republican Idealism 
into the artificial lake of eighteenth century Europe produced a 
splash that seemed to splash the heavens, and a storm that drowned 
ten thousand men. What would happen if a star from heaven really 
fell into the slimy and bloody pool of a hopeless and decaying 
humanity? Men swept a city with the guillotine, a continent with 
a sabre, because Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity were too precious 
to be lost. How if Christianity was yet more maddening because it 
was yet more precious? 

But why should we labour the point when One who knew human 
nature as it can really be learnt, from fishermen and women and 
natural people, saw from his quiet village the track of this truth 
across history, and, in saying that He came to bring not peace but 
a sword, set up eternally His colossal realism against the eternal 
sentimentality of the Secularist? 

Thus, then, in the third instance, when the learned sceptic says: 
"Christianity produced wars and persecutions," we shall reply: 

And, lastly, let me take an example which leads me on directly 
to the general matter I wish to discuss for the remaining space of 
the articles at my command. The Secularist constantly points out 
that the Hebrew and Christian religions began as local things; that 
their god was a tribal god; that they gave him material form, and 
attached him to particular places. 

This is an excellent example of one of the things that if I were 
conducting a detailed campaign I should use as an argument for 
the validity of Biblical experience. For if there really are some other 
and higher beings than ourselves, and if they in some strange way, 
at some emotional crisis, really revealed themselves to rude poets 
or dreamers in very simple times, that these rude people should 
regard the revelation as local, and connect it with the particular hill 
or river where it happened, seems to me exactly what any reason 
able human being would expect. It has a far more credible look 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 201 

than if they had talked cosmic philosophy from the beginning. If 
they had, I should have suspected "priestcraft" and forgeries and 
third-century Gnosticism. 

If there be such a being as God, and He can speak to a child, 
and if God spoke to a child in the garden, the child would, of 
course, say that God lived in the garden. I should not think it any 
less likely to be true for that. If the child said: "God is everywhere; 
an impalpable essence pervading and supporting all constituents of 
the Cosmos alike" if, I say, the infant addressed me in the above 
terms, I should think he was much more likely to have been with 
the governess than with God. 

So if Moses had said God was an Infinite Energy, I should be 
certain he had seen nothing extraordinary. As he said He was a 
Burning Bush, I think it very likely that he did see something 
extraordinary. For whatever be the Divine Secret, and whether or 
no it has (as all people have believed) sometimes broken bounds 
and surged into our world, at least it lies on the side furthest away 
from pedants and their definitions, and nearest to the silver souls 
of quiet people, to the beauty of bushes, and the love of one's native 

Thus, then, in our last instance (out of hundreds that might be 
taken), we conclude in the same way. When the learned sceptic 
says: "The visions of the Old Testament were local, and rustic, 
and grotesque," we shall answer: "Of course. They were genuine/' 

Thus, as I said at the beginning, I find myself, to start with, face 
to face with the difficulty that to mention the reasons that I have 
for believing in Christianity is, in very many cases, simply to repeat 
those arguments which Mr. Blatchford, in some strange way, seems 
to regard as arguments against it. His book is really rich and power 
ful. He has undoubtedly set up these four great guns of which I 
have spoken. I have nothing to say against the size and ammunition 
of the guns. I only say that by some strange accident of arrange 
ment he has set up those four pieces of artillery pointing at himself. 
If I were not so humane, I should say: "Gentlemen of the Secularist 
Guard, fire first/' 

He goes on in the next essay to talk of the positive arguments 
for Christianity, of "this religious philosophy which was, and 
will be again, the study of the highest intellects and the foonda- 

2O2 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

tion of the strongest nations, but which our little civilisation has 
for a while forgotten/' Very briefly he then deals with Deter 
minism and Freewill, the need for the Supernatural and the 
question of the Fall. Dealing with the Fall he uses one of his 
most brilliant illustrations. We speak, he says, of a manly man, 
but not of a whaley whale. "If you wanted to dissuade a man 
from drinking his tenth whisky, you would slap him on the 
back and say, 'Be a man.* No one who wished to dissuade a 
crocodile from eating his tenth explorer would slap it on the 
back and say, 'Be a crocodile/ For we have no notion of a 
perfect crocodile; no allegory of a whale expelled from his 
Whaley Eden." 

Continuing the swift sketch of some elements of Christian 
theology, Chesterton next deals with Miracles. While the devel 
opment in Orthodoxy makes this section look very slight, there 
are passages that make one realize the mental wealth of a man 
who could afford to leave them behind and rush on. Blatchford 
had said that no English judge would accept the evidence for 
the resurrection and G.K. answers that possibly Christians have 
not all got "such an extravagant reverence for English judges as 
is felt by Mr. Blatchford himself. The experiences of the 
Founder of Christianity have perhaps left us in a vague doubt 
of the infallibility of Courts of Law/' 

In reference to the many rationalists whose refusal to accept 
any miracle is based on the fact that "Experience is against it," 
he says: "There was a great Irish Rationalist of this school who 
when he was told that a witness had seen him commit a murder 
said that he could bring a hundred witnesses who had not seen 
him commit it/' 

The final essay on "The Eternal Heroism of the Slums" has 
two main points. It begins with an acknowledgment of the 
crimes of Christians, only pointing out that while Mr. Blatch 
ford outlaws the Church for this reason, he is prepared to invoke 
the State whose crimes are far worse. But the most vigorous part 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 203 

of the essay is a furious attack on determinism. Blatchford 
apparently held that bad surroundings inevitably produced bad 
men. Chesterton had seen the heroism of the poor in the most 
evil surroundings and was furious at "this association of vice with 
poverty, the vilest and the oldest and the dirtiest of all the stories 
that insolence has ever flung against the poor/* Men can and do 
lead heroic lives in the worst of circumstances because there is in 
humanity a power of responsibility, there is freewill. Blatchford, 
in the name of humanity, is attacking the greatest of human 

More numerous than can be counted, in all the wars and perse 
cutions of the world, men have looked out of their little grated win 
dows and said, "at least my thoughts are free." "No, No," says 
the face of Mr. Blatchford, suddenly appearing at the window, "your 
thoughts are the inevitable result of heredity and environment. 
Your thoughts are as material as your dungeons. Your thoughts are 
as mechanical as the guillotine." So pants this strange comforter, 
from cell to cell. 

I suppose Mr. Blatchford would say that in his Utopia nobody 
would be in prison. What do I care whether I am in prison or no, 
if I have to drag chains everywhere. A man in his Utopia may have, 
for all I know, free food, free meadows, his own estate, his own 
palace. What does it matter? he may not have his own soul, 

An architect once discoursed to me on the need of humility in 
face of the material: the stone and marble of his building. Thus 
Chesterton was humble before the reality he was seeking to 
interpret. Pride, he once defined as "the falsification of fact by 
the introduction of self." To learn, a man must "subtract himself 
from the study of any solid and objective thing." This humility 
he had in a high degree and also that rarer humility which saw 
his friends and his opponents alike as his intellectual equals* 
"Almost anybody," Monsignor Knox once said, "was an ordinary 
person compared with him/' But this was an idea that certainly 
never occurred to him. 

204 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

The philosophy shaping into Orthodoxy was stimulated by 
newspaper controversy, and also by the talk in which Gilbert 
always delighted. As I have noted he loved to listen and he 
was a little slow in getting off the mark with his own con 
tribution. Many years later an American interviewer described 
him, when he did get going, as answering questions in brief 
essays. Frank Swinnerton has admirably described the manner of 
speech so well remembered by his friends: 

His speech is prefaced and accompanied by a curious sort of hum 
ming, such as one may hear when glee singers give each other the 
note before starting to sing. He pronounces the word "I" (without 
egotism) as if it were "Ayee," and drawls, not in the highly gentle 
manly manner which Americans believe to be the English accent, 
and which many English call the Oxford accent, but in a mannei 
peculiar to himself, either attractive or the reverse according to oneV 
taste (tx> me attractive).* 

Even more attractive to most of us was his fashion of making 
us feel that we had contributed something very worthwhile. He 
would take something one had said and develop it till it shone 
and glowed, not from its own worth but from what he had made 
of it. Almost anything could thus become a starting point for a 
train of his best thought. And the style disliked by some in his 
writings was so completely the man himself that it was the same 
in conversation as in his books. He would approach a topic from 
every side throwing light on those contradictory elements that 
made a paradox. He himself had what he attributes to St. 
Thomas "that instantaneous presence of mind which alone 
-really deserves the name of wit." Asked once the traditional ques 
tion what single book he would choose if cast on a desert island, 
he replied Thomas's Guide to Practical Shipbuilding. 

In talk, as in his books, G.K. loved to play upon words, and 
sometimes of course this was merely a matter of words and the 
puns were bad ones. Once, for instance, after translating the 

* Georgian Scene, p. 94. 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 205 

French phrase for playing truant as "he goes to the bushy school 
or the school among the bushes," he adds "not lightly to be 
confounded with the Art School at Bushey." This is indefensible, 
but rare. Christopher Morley has noted how "his play upon 
words often led to a genuine play upon thoughts. . . . One of 
Chesterton's best pleasantries was his remark on the so-called 
Emancipation of Women. "Twenty million young women rose 
to their feet with the cry We will not be. dictated to: and pro 
ceeded to become stenographers/ " He complained in a review 
of a novel "Every modern man is an atlas carrying the world; 
and we are introduced to a new cosmos with every new char 
acter. . . Each man has to be introduced accompanied by 
his cosmos, like a jealous wife or on the principle of love me 
love my dogma.' " 

Each of Chesterton's readers can think of a hundred instances 
of this inspired fooling: many have been given in this book and 
many will yet be given. But the thing went far deeper than 
fooling: it has been compared by Mr. Belloc to the gospel 
parables as a method of teaching and of illumination. "He made 
men see what they had not seen before. He made them know, 
He was an architect of certitude, whenever he practiced the art 
in which he excelled." 

Belloc's analysis of this special element in Chesterton's style, 
alike written and spoken, is of first rate importance to an under 
standing of the man whose mind at this date was still rapidly 
developing while his method of expression had become what 
it remained to the end of his life. 

His unique, his capital, genius for illustration by parallel, by 
example, is his peculiar mark. The word "peculiar" is here the oper 
ative word. . . . No one whatsoever that I can recall in the whole 
course of English letters had his amazing I would almost say super 
humancapacity for parallelism. 

Now parallelism is a gift or method of vast effect in the convey 
ance of truth. 

206 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Parallelism consists in the illustration of some unperceived truth, 
by its exact consonance with the reflection of a truth already known 
and perceived . . . 

Whenever Chesterton begins a sentence with, "It is as though" 
(in exploding a false bit of reasoning), you may expect a stroke of 
parallelism as vivid as a lightning flash. 

. . Always, in whatever manner he launched the parallelism, he 
produced the shock of illumination. He taught. 

Parallelism was so native to his mind; it was so naturally a fruit 
of his mental character that he had difficulty in understanding why 
others did not use it with the same lavish facility as himself. 

I can speak here with experience, for in these conversations with 
him or listening to his conversation with others I was always aston 
ished at an ability in illustration which I not only have never seen 
equalled, but cannot remember to have seen attempted. He never 
sought such things; they poured out from him as easily as though 
they were not the hard forged products of intense vision, but spon 
taneous remarks.* 

To return to the Blatchford controversy: a final point of inter 
est is a psychological one. G.K. admits his difficulty in using in 
his arguments the reverent solemnity of the Agnostic. He realizes 
that he is thought flippant because he is amusing on a subject 
where he is more certain than "of the existence of the moon. . . . 
Christianity is itself so jolly a thing that it fills the possessor of it 
with a certain silly exuberance, which sad and high-minded 
Rationalists might reasonably mistake for mere buffoonery." But 
if this is his own psychology he faces too the special difficulty of 
theirsthe main and towering barrier that he wished but hardly 
hoped to surmount. He was the first person, I think, to see that 
Free Thought was no longer a young movement, but old and 
even fossilized. It had formed minds which were now too set to 
be altered. It had its own dogmas and its own most rigid ortho 
doxy, "You are armed to the -teeth," he told the readers of the 
Clarion, "and buttoned up to the chin with the great agnostic 
Orthodoxy, perhaps the most placid and perfect of all the ortho- 

* On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters, pp. 36-4 1 * 

Clearing the Ground for Orthodoxy 207 

doxies of men. ... I approach you with the reverence and the 
courage due to a bench of bishops/' 

The Clarion controversy was, as we have seen, in 1903 and 
1904, when Chesterton was approaching thirty. Others of those 
I have mentioned came later. But I don't think any or even all 
of them fully explain the depth and richness of Orthodoxy. 


Philosophy is either eternal or it is not philosophy. ... A cosmic 
philosophy is not constructed to fit a -man; a cosmic philosophy is 
constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private 
religion than he can possess a private sun and moon. 

Introduction to the Book of Job. 

BECAUSE Orthodoxy is supremely Chesterton's own history 
of his mind more must be said of it than of his other pub 
lished works. For "This book is the life of a man. And a man is 
his mind." The Notebook shows him thinking and feeling in his 
youth exactly on the lines that he recalls but they were only 
lines in fact an outline. The richness of life was needed, the 
richness of thought, to turn the outline into the masterpiece. 
No man, not even Chesterton, could have written Orthodoxy 
at the age of twenty. It was sufficiently remarkable that he 
should have written it at thirty-five: but only a man who had 
been thinking along those lines at twenty and much earlier could 
have written it at all. For Hie book is as he says "a sort of 
slovenly autobiography." It is not so much an argument for 
Orthodoxy as the story of how one man discovered Orthodoxy 
as the only answer to the riddle of the universe. 

In an interview, given shortly after its publication, Gilbert 
told of a temptation that had once been his and which he had 
overcome almost before he realized he had been tempted. That 
temptation was to become a prophet like all the men in Heretics, 
by emphasizing one aspect of truth and ignoring the others. To 


Orthodoxy 209 

do this would, he knew, bring him a great crowd of disciples. 
He had a vision which constantly grew wider and deeper of 
the many-sided unity of Truth, but he saw that all the prophets 
of the age, from Walt Whitman and Schopenhauer to Wells 
and Shaw, had become so by taking one side of truth and making 
it all of truth. It is so much easier to see and magnify a part than 
laboriously to strive to embrace the whole: 

... a sage feels too small for life, 
And a fool too large for it. 

Not that he condemned as fools the able men of his generation. 
For Wells he had a great esteem, for Shaw a greater. Whitman 
he had in his youth almost idolized. But increasingly he recog 
nized even Whitman as representing an idea that was too narrow 
because it was only an aspect. There was not room in Whitman's 
philosophy for some of the facts he had already discovered and 
he felt he had not yet completed his journey. He must not, for 
the sake of being a prophet and of having a following, sacrifice 
I will not say a truth already found, but a truth that might still 
be lurking somewhere. He could not be the architect of his own 
intellectual universe any more than he had been the creator of 
sun, moon and earth. "God and humanity made it," he said of 
the philosophy he discovered, "and it made me/' 

He had begun in boyhood, as we have seen, by realizing that 
the world as depicted in fairy tales was saner and more sensible 
than the world as seen by the inteltectuals of his own day. These 
men had lost the sense of life's value. They spoke of the world 
as a vast place governed by iron laws of necessity. Chesterton 
felt in it the presence of will, while the mere thought of vast- 
ness was to him about as cheerful a conception as that of a jail 
that should with its cold empty passages cover half the county. 
"These expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except 
more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns 
and empty of all that was divine." 

2i o Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

These people professed that the universe was one coherent thing; 
but they were not fond of the universe. But I was frightfully fond 
of the universe and wanted to address it by a diminutive. I often 
did so; and it never seemed to mind. Actually and in truth I did 
feel that these dim dogmas of vitality were better expressed by 
calling the world small than by calling it large. For about infinity 
there was a sort of carelessness which was the reverse of the fierce 
and pious care which I felt touching the pricelessness and the peril 
of life. They showed only a dreary waste; but I felt a sort of sacred 
thrift. For economy is far more romantic than extravagance. To 
them stars were an unending income of halfpence; but I felt about 
the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has 
one sovereign and one shilling. 

These subconscious convictions are best hit off by the colour and 
tone of certain tales. Thus I have said that stories of magic alone 
can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of 
eccentric privilege. I may express this other feeling of cosmic cosi 
ness by allusion to another book always read in boyhood, "Robinson 
Crusoe/' which I read about this time, and which owes its eternal 
vivacity to the fact that it celebrates the poetry of limits, nay, even 
the wild romance of prudence. Crusoe is a man on a small rock 
with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in 
the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck,. The great 
est of poems is an inventory. . . 

I really felt (the fancy may seem foolish) as if all the order and 
number of things were the romantic remnant of Crusoe's ship. That 
there are two sexes and one sun, was like the fact that there were 
two guns and one axe. It was poignantly urgent that none should 
be lost; but somehow, it was rather fun that none could be added. 
The trees and the planets seemed like things saved from the wreck: 
and when I saw the Matterhorn I was glad that it had not been 
overlooked in the confusion. I felt economical about the stars as if 
they were sapphires (they are called so in Milton's Eden) : I hoarded 
the hills. For the universe is a single jewel, and while it is a natural 
cant to talk of a jewel as peerless and priceless, of this jewel it is 
literally true. This cosmos is indeed without peer and without price: 
for there cannot be another one/' * 

* Orthodoxy, Chapter IV, pp. 112-5. 

Orthodoxy 211 

A fragment of an essay on Hans Anderson that cannot be 
later than the age of seventeen shows Gilbert trying to shape part 
of what he calls here, 'The Ethics of Elfland," but a large part 
was, as he says, "subconscious/' In this chapter he sums up the 
results of musings about the universe begun so long ago small 
wonder that he had seemed to sleep over his lessons while he 
was seeing these visions and dreaming these dreams which 
after every effort to tell them he still knows remains half un 

. . . the attempt to utter the unutterable things. These are my 
ultimate attitudes towards life; the soils for the seeds of doctrine. 
These in some dark way I thought before I could write, and felt 
before I could think; that we may proceed more easily afterwards, 
I will roughly recapitulate them now. I felt in my bones; first, that 
this world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with, a super 
natural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick, with a natural 
explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to 
satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanations I 
have heard. The thing is magic, true or false. Second, I came to feel 
as if magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have some one 
to mean it. There was something personal in the world, as in a work 
of art; whatever it meant it meant violently. Third, I thought this 
purpose beautiful in its old design, in spite of its defects, such as 
dragons. Fourth, that the proper form of thanks to it is some form 
of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Bur 
gundy by not drinking too much of them. We owed, also, an obe 
dience to whatever made us. And last, and strangest, there had 
come into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all 
good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some 
primordial ruin. Man had saved his good as Crusoe saved his goods; 
he had saved them from a wreck. All this I felt and the age gave 
me no encouragement to feel it. And all the time I had not even 
thought of Christian theology.* 

This theology came with the answers to all the tremendous 
questions asked by life. Here the convert has one great advan- 
p. 155-6. 

212 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

tage over the Catholic brought up in the Faith. Most of us hear 
the answers before we have asked the questions: hence intellec 
tually we lack what G.K. calls "the soils for the seeds of doctrine." 
It is nearly impossible to understand an answer to a question 
you have not formulated. And without the sense of urgency that 
an insistent question brings, many people do not even try. All 
the years of his boyhood and early manhood Chesterton was 
fating the fundamental questions and hammering out his 
answers. At first he had no thought of Christianity as even a 
possible answer. Growing up in a world called Christian, he 
fancied it a philosophy that had been tried and found wanting. 
It was only as he realized that the answers he was finding for 
himself always fitted into, were always confirmed by, the Chris 
tian view of things that he began to turn towards it. He sees a 
good deal of humour in the way he strained his voice in a pain 
fully juvenile attempt to utter his new truths, only to find that 
they were not his and were not new, but were part of an eternal 

In the chapter called "The Flag of the World" he tells of the 
moment when he discovered the confirmation and reinforcing 
of his own speculations by the Christian theology. The point at 
which this came concerned his feelings about the men of his 
youth who labelled themselves Optimist and Pessimist. Both, 
he felt, were wrong. It must be possible at once to love and to 
hate the world, to love it more than enough to get on with it, 
to hate it enough to get it on. And the Church solved this diffi 
culty by her doctrine of creation and of Original Sin. "God had 
written not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had 
planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human 
actors and stage-managers who had since made a great mess 
of it." 

As to that mess the Christian could be as pessimist as he 
liked, as to the original design he must be optimist, for it was 
his work to restore it. "St. George could still fight the dragon 

Orthodoxy 213 

... if lie were as big as the world he could yet be killed in the 
name of the world/* 

: And then followed an experience impossible to describe. It was 
as if I had been blundering about since my birth with two huge 
and unmanageable machines, of different shapes and without ap 
parent connection the world and the Christian tradition. I had 
found this hole in the world: the fact that one must somehow find 
a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must 
love the world without being worldly. I found this projecting fea 
ture of Christian theology, like a sort of hard spike, the dogmatic 
insistence that God was personal, and had made a world separate 
from Himself. The spike of dogma fitted exactly into the hole in 
the world it had evidently been meant to go there and then the 
strange thing began to happen. When once these two parts of the 
two machines had come together, one after another, all the other 
parts fitted and fell in with an eerie exactitude. I could hear bolt 
after bolt over all the machinery falling into its place with a kind 
of click of relief. Having got one part right, all the other parts were 
repeating that rectitude, as clock after clock strikes noon. Instinct 
after instinct was answered by doctrine after doctrine. Or, to vary 
the metaphor, I was like one who had advanced into a hostile 
country to take one high fortress. And when that fort had fallen 
the whole country surrendered and turned solid behind me. The 
whole land was lit up, as it were, back to the first fields of my 
childhood. All those blind fancies of boyhood which in the fourth 
chapter I have tried in vain to trace on the darkness, became sud 
denly transparent and sane. I was right when I felt that I would 
almost rather say that grass was the wrong colour than say that it 
must by necessity have been that colour: it might verily have been 
any other. My sense that happiness hung on the crazy thread of a 
condition did mean something when all was said: it meant the 
whole doctrine of the Fall. Even those dim and shapeless monsters 
of notions which I have not been able to describe, much less def end, 
stepped quietly into their places like colossal caryatides of the creed. 
The fancy that the cosmos was not vast and void, but small and 
cosy, had a fulfilled significance now, for anything that is a worfe 
of art must be small in the sight of the artist; to God the stars 
might be only small and dear, like diamonds. And my haunting 
instinct that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, bttt a 

214 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

relic to be guarded, like the goods from Crusoe's shipeven that 
had been the wild whisper of something originally wise, for, accord 
ing to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the 
crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of 
the world.* 

In a chapter called 'The Paradoxes of Christianity/' the rich 
ness of his mind is most manifest; and in that chapter can best 
be seen what Mr. Belloc meant when he told me Chesterton's 
style reminded him of St. Augustine's. Talking over with an old 
schoolfellow of his the list of books he had, as we have seen, 
drawn up for T.P.'s Weekly, I discovered deep doubt as to 
whether Gilbert would really have read these books, as most of 
us understand reading, combined with a conviction that he 
would have got out of them at a glance more than most of us by 
prolonged study. I have certainly never known anyone his equal 
at what the schoolboy calls "degutting" a book. He did not seem 
to study an author, yet he certainly knew him. 

But it remained that his own mind, reflecting and experi 
encing, made of his own life his greatest storehouse, so that in 
all this book there was, as my father pointed out in the Dublin 
Review at the time, an intensely original new light cast on the 
eternal philosophy about which so much had already been writ 
ten. The discovery specially needed, perhaps, for his own age 
was that Christianity represented a new balance that constituted 
a liberation. The ancient Greek or Roman had aimed at equi 
librium by enforcing moderation and getting rid of extremes. 
Christianity "made moderation out of the still crash of two 
impetuous emotions." It "got over the difficulty of combining 
furious opposites by keeping them both, and keeping them both 
furious." "The more I considered Christianity, the more I felt 
that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of 
that order was to give room for good things to xun wild." Thus 
inside Christianity the pacifist could become a monk, and the 

* Orthodoxy, Chapter V, pp. 142-4. 

Orthodoxy 215 

warrior a Crusader, St. Francis could praise good more loudly 
than Walt Whitman, and St. Jerome denounce evil more darkly 
than Schopenhauer but both emotions must be kept in their 
place. I remember how George Wyndham laughed as he recited 
to us the paragraph where this idea reached its climax. 

And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met 
and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was 
fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the 
lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is 
constantly assumed, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that 
when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. 
But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the 
lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion 
eating the lamb. The real problem is Can the lion lie down with 
the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the 
Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.* 

All this applied not only to the release of the emotions, the 
development of all the elements that go to make up humanity, 
but even more to the truths of Revelation. A heresy always means 
lopping off a part of the truth and, therefore, ultimately a loss 
of liberty. Orthodoxy, in keeping the whole truth, safeguarded 
freedom and prevented any one of the great and devouring ideas 
she was teaching from swallowing any other truth. This was the 
justification of councils, of definitions, even of persecutions and 
wars of religion: that they had stood for the defence of reason 
as well as of faith. They had stood to prevent the suicide of 
thought which must result if the exciting but difficult balance 
were lost that had replaced the classical moderation. 

The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth on some 
things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the 
irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and 
some other idea would become too powerful. It was no floek of 
sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and 

* Orthodoxy, Chapter VI, pp. 178-9. 

2i 6 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them 
strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. 
Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; 
she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of 
the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfil 
ment of prophecies, are ideas which, any one can see, need but a 
touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious. . . . 
A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would 
have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions 
might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or 
break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict 
limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. 
The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be 

This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen 
into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, 
humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so 
exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic 
than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rush 
ing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in 
every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of 
arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with 
any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely 
went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to 
left and right, so as exactly to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on 
one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly 
powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was 
swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too 
unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or 
accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respect 
able. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power 
of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seven 
teenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It 
is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy 
to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. 
It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To 
have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration 
which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic 
path of Christendom that would indeed have been simple. It is 
always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one 

Orthodoxy 217 

falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one 
of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have 
been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one 
whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies 
thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and pros 
trate, the wild truth reeling but erect.* 

No quotation can adequately convey the wealth of thought 
in the book. Yet amazingly, the Times reviewer rebuked G.K. 
for substituting emotion for intellect, partly on the strength of a 
sentence in the chapter called "The Maniac." "The madman is 
the man who has lost everything except his reason/* The reviews, 
when one reads them as a whole, exactly confirm what Wilfrid 
Ward said in the Dublin Re-view: that whereas he had regarded 
Orthodoxy as a triumphant vindication of his own view that 
G.K. was a really profound thinker, he found to his amazement 
that those who had thought him superficial, hailed it as a proof 
of theirs. 

Obviously with a man so much concerned with ultimates the 
place accorded him in letters will depend upon whether one 
agrees or disagrees with his conclusions. In a country that is not 
Catholic this consideration must affect the standing of any Cath 
olic thinker. Thus Newman was considered by Carlyle to have 
"the brain of a moderate sized rabbit/' yet by others his is 
counted the greatest mind of the century. Similarly Arnold 
Bennett could credit Chesterton with only a second-class intel 
lectual apparatus because he was a dogmatist. To this Chester 
ton replied (in Fancies versus Fads*): "In truth there are only 
two kinds of people, those who accept dogmas and know it and 
those who accept dogmas and don't know it. My only advantage 
over the gifted novelist lies in my belonging to the former class/' 
If one grasps the Catholic view of dogma the answer is satisfy 
ing; if not the objector is left with his original objection as 
against Chesterton, as against Newman. And Chesterton had dfoe 

* Orthodoxy, Chapter VI, pp. 182-5. 

2i 8 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

extra disadvantage of being a journalist famous for his jokes now 
moving in Newman's unquestioned field of philosophy and 
theology. It was in part the difficulty of convincing a man against 
his will. These critics, as Wilfrid Ward pointed out, read super 
ficially and looked only at the fooling, the fantastic puns and 
comparisons, ignoring the underlying deep seriousness and lines 
of thought that made him, as it then seemed boldly, rank Ches 
terton with such writers as Butler, Coleridge and Newman. 
Taking as his text the saying, "Truth can understand error, but 
error cannot understand truth/' Wilfrid Ward called his article, 
"Mr. Chesterton among the Prophets/' 

He showed especially the curious confusion made in such 
comments as the one I have quoted from the Times, and made 
clearer what Chesterton was really saying by a comparison with 
the "illative sense" of Cardinal Newman. It is the usual difficulty 
of trying to express a partly new idea. Newman had coined an 
expression, but it did not express all he meant, still less all that 
Chesterton meant. Yet it was difficult to use the word "reason" in 
this particular discussion, without giving to it two different 
meanings. For in two chapters, "The Maniac" and "The Suicide 
of Thought," Chesterton was concerned to show that Authority 
was needed for the defence of reason (in the larger sense) 
against its own power of self-destruction. Yet the maniac com 
mits this suicide by an excessive use of reason (in the narrower 
sense). "He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, 
or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical 
for losing certain sane affections. . . . He is in the clean and 
well-lit prison of one idea: he is sharpened to one painful point." 

To Chesterton it seemed that most of the modern religions 
and philosophies were like the argument by which a madman 
suffering from persecution mania proves that he is in a world of 
enemies: it is complete, it is unanswerable, yet it is false. The 
madman's mind "moves in a perfect but narrow circle. . . . 
The insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, only 

Orthodoxy 219 

it is not so large. . . . There is such a thing as a narrow uni 
versality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity; 
you may see it in many modern religions/' Philosophies such as 
Materialism, Idealism, Monism, all have in their explanations of 
the universe this quality of the madman's argument of "cover 
ing everything and leaving everything out/* The Materialist, like 
the Madman is "unconscious of the alien energies and the large 
indifference of the earth; he is not thinking of the real things of 
the earth, of fighting peoples or proud mothers or first love or 
fear upon the sea. The earth is so very large and the cosmos is 
so very small/' 

People sometimes say, "life is larger than logic/* when they 
want to dismiss logic, hut that was not Chesterton's way. He 
wanted logic, he needed logic, as part of the abundance of the 
mind's life, as part of a much larger whole. What was the word 
we are looking for it still for a use of the mind that included 
all these things; logic and imagination, mysticism and ecstasy and 
poetry and joy; a use of the mind that could embrace the uni 
verse and reach upwards to God without losing its balance. The 
mind must work in time, yet it can reach out into Eternity: it is 
conditioned by space but it can glimpse infinity. The modern 
world had imprisoned the mind. Far more than the body it 
needed great open spaces. And Chesterton, breaking violently 
out of prison, looked around and saw how the Church had given 
health to the mind by giving it space to move in and great ideas 
to move among. Chesterton, the poet, saw too that man is a poet 
and must therefore, "get his head into the heavens/* He needs 
mysticism and among Her great ideas, the Church gives him 

Bernard Shaw 

This chapter was read by G.B.S. His remarks are printed in foot 
notes. The one page altered substantially "by him is reproduced. 

WHEN ANYONE IN the early years of the century made a 
list of the English writers most in the public eye, such 
a list always included the names of Bernard Shaw and G. K. 
Chesterton. But a good many people in writing down these 
names did so with unconcealed irritation and I think it is impor 
tant at this stage to see why. 

These men were constantly arguing with each other; but 
the literary public felt all the same that they represented some 
thing in common, and the literary public was by no means sure 
that it liked that something. It could not quite resist Bernard 
Shaw's plays; it loved Chesterton whenever it could rebuke him 
affectionately for paradox and levity. What that public suc 
cumbed to in these men was their art: it was by no means so 
certain that it liked their meaning. And so the literary public 
elected to say that Shaw and Chesterton were having a cheap 
success by standing on their heads and declaring that black was 
white. The audience watched a Shaw v. Chesterton debate as a 
sham fight or a display of fireworks, as indeed it always partly 
was; for each of them would have died rather than really hurt 
the other. But Shaw and Chesterton were operating on their 
minds all the time. They were allowed to sit in the stalls and 
applaud. But they were themselves being challenged; and that 
spoilt their comfort. 

Chesterton in his Autobiography complains of the falsity of 


Bernard Shaw 


most of the pictures of England during the Victorian era. The 
languishing, fainting females, who were in fact far stronger- 
minded than their grand-daughters today, the tyrannical pious 
fathers, the dull conventional lives: it all rings false to anyone 
who grew up in an average Victorian middle-class home and 
was happy enough there. There was, however, one thing funda 
mentally wrong in such homes; and it was on this fundamental 
sin that he agreed with Shaw in waging a relentless war. 

The middle classes of England were thoroughly and smugly 
satisfied with social conditions that were intolerable for the great 
mass of their fellow countrymen. They had erected between the 
classes artificial barriers and now did not even look over the top 
of them. I remember how when my mother started a setdement 
in South London the head worker told us she often saw women 
groping in the dirt under the fish barrows for the heads and tails 
of fishes to boil for their children. The settlement began to give 
the children dinners of dumplings or rice pudding and treacle, 
and many well-to-do friends would give my mother a pound or 
so to help this work. But the suggestion that government should 
intervene was Socialism: the idea that here was a symptom of a 
widespread evil, was scouted utterly. People might have learnt 
much from their own servants of how the rest of humanity were 
living, but while, said Chesterton, they laughed at the idea of the 
mediaeval baron whose vassals ate below the salt, their own vas 
sals ate and lived below the floor. At no time in the Christian past 
had there been such a deep and wide cleavage in humanity. 

The first thing that G.K.C. and G.B.S., Wells too, and Belloc, 
were all agreed upon was that the upper and middle classes of 
England must be reminded, if need were by a series of earth 
quakes, that they were living in an unreal world. They had for 
gotten the human race to which they belonged. They, a tiny 
section, spoke of the mass of mankind as "the poor" or "the lower 
orders" almost as they might speak of the beasts of the forest, 
as beings of a different race. Chesterton had a profound and 

222 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

noble respect for die poor: Shaw declared that they were "use 
less, dangerous, and ought to be abolished/* But for both men, 
the handful of quarrelsome cliques called the literary world was 
far too small, because it was so tiny a section of the human race. 
Shaw and Chesterton had, in fact, discovered the social prob 
lem. Today, whether people intend to do anything about it or 
not, it is impossible to avoid knowing something about it. But 
at that date the idea was general that all was as well as could be 
expected in an imperfect world. The trades unionists were telling 
a different story, but they could not hope to reach intellectually 
the classes they were attacking. Here were men who could not 
be ignored, and I cannot but think that it was sometimes the 
mere utterance of unwelcome truth in brilliant speech that 
aroused the cry of "paradox." 

I hear many people [wrote Chesterton], complain that Bernard 
Shaw deliberately mystifies them. I cannot imagine what they mean; 
it seems to me that he deliberately insults them. His language, 
especially on moral questions, is generally as straight and solid as 
that of a bargee and far less ornate and symbolic than that of a 
hansom-cabman. The prosperous English Philistine complains that 
Mr. Shaw is making a fool of him. Whereas Mr. Shaw is not in 
the least making a fool of him; Mr. Shaw is, with laborious lucidity, 
calling him a fool. G.B.S. calls a landlord a thief; and the landlord, 
instead of denying or resenting it, says, "Ah, that fellow hides his 
meaning so cleverly that one can never make out what he means, 
it is all so fine-spun and fantastical." G.B.S. calls a statesman a liar 
to his face, and the statesman cries in a kind of ecstasy, "Ah, what 
quaint, intricate and half-tangled trains of thought! Ah, what elu 
sive and many-qoloured mysteries of half-meaning!" I think it is 
always quite plain what Mr. Shaw means, even when he is joking, 
and it generally means that the people he is talking to ought to 
howl aloud for their sins. But the average representative of them 
undoubtedly treats the Shavian meaning as tricky and complex, 
when it is really direct and offensive. He always accuses Shaw of 
pulling his leg, at the exact moment when Shaw is pulling his nose.* 

* George Bernard Shaw, pp. 82-3. 

Bernard Shaw 223 

Chesterton was, however, in agreement with the ordinary 
citizen and in disagreement with Shaw as to much of Shaw's 
essential teaching. And here we touch a matter so involved that 
even today it is hard to disentangle it completely. I suppose it 
will always be possible for two observers to look at human beings 
acting, to hear them talking, and to arrive at two entirely differ 
ent interpretations of what they mean. This is certainly the case 
with any very recent period, and perhaps especially with our 
own recent history. We have within living memory ended a 
period and begun an exceedingly different period, and we tend 
to judge the former by the light or the darkness of the latter. 
The Victorian age, even in its extreme old age, was still tacitly 
assuming and legally enforcing as axioms the Christian moral 
system, especially in regard to marriage and all sex questions, 
and the sacred nature of property. To read many disquisitions 
on that period today one would suppose that no one living really 
believed in these things: that humbug explained the first and 
greed the second. 

This is surely a false perspective. The age was an enormously 
conventional one: these fundamental ideas had become fossil 
ized and meaningless for an increasing number of younger 
people. But when Bernard Shaw called himself an atheist out 
of a kind of insane generosity towards Bradlaugh (see his letter 
to G.K. later in this chapter) or described all property as theft, 
it was a real moral indignation that was roused in many minds. 
Real, but exceedingly confused. It testified to the need of the 
ordinary man to live by a creed that he need not question. Shaw 
and Chesterton were philosophers, and philosophers love asking 
questions as well as answering them. But the average man 
wants to live by his creed, not question it, and the elder Vic 
torians had still some kind of creed. 

There were many who believed in God. There were others 
who believed that the Christian moral system must remain, 
because it had commended itself to man's nature as the highest 

224 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

and best and was the true fruit of evolutionary progress. There 
were certainly some who were angry because they thought chaos 
must follow any tampering with the existing social order. But if 
you take the mass of those who tried to laugh Bernard Shaw 
aside and grew angry when they could not do so, you find at 
the root of the anger an intense dislike of having any part of a 
system questioned which was to them unquestionable, which 
they had erected into a creed. They thought Shaw's ideas dan 
gerous and wanted to keep them from the young. They did not 
want anyone to ask how a civilisation had laid its principles 
open to this brilliant and effective siege. They hated Shaw's 
questions before they began to hate his answers. And that is 
probably why so many linked Chesterton with Shaw he gave 
different answers, but he was asking many of the same quest "ons. 
He questioned everything as Shaw did only he pushed his 
questions further: they were deeper and more searching. Shaw 
would not accept the old Scrptural orthodoxy; G.K. refused to 
accept the new Agnostic orthodoxy; neither man would accept 
the orthodoxy of the scientists; both were prepared to attack 
what Butler had called ''the science ridden, art ridden, culture 
ridden, afternoon-tea ridden cliffs of old England/' 

They attacked first by the mere process of asking questions; 
and the world thus questioned grew uneasy and seemed to care 
curiously little for the fact that the two questioners were answer 
ing their own questions in an opposite fashion. Where Shaw 
said: "Give up pretending you believe in God, for you don't/* 
Chesterton said: "Rediscover the reasons for believing or else 
our race is lost/' Where Shaw said: "Abolish private property 
which has produced this ghastly poverty," Chesterton said: 
"Abolish ghastly poverty by restoring property/' 

And the audience said: "these two men in strange paradoxes 
seem to us to be saying the same thing, if indeed they are say 
ing anything at all/' Chesterton wrote later of a young man 

When anyone In .tjie early years of the century 

a list of the English writers most In the public eye, such a list 

always included the names of Qflagfto Bernard Sha^ G, K. Chesterton. 

But a good many people in writing down these names did so with 
unconcealed irritation and I think it is important at this sta^e 
to see why. 

These men were 'constantly arguing with one another; 
but the literary public felt all the sa:ne that they represented 
something in common, and the literary public was, by no Deans sure 

Co^^tj/M&AflAuh , 

that it liked that something. It H4wd Bernard Shaw 'a playsj;^^ 
6uuu liu Idululffj; it loved Chesterton whenever it could rebuke 

^COu/ri 1 .*"* 

him affectionately for paradox and levity. What that publlc-t-ilced 


about farm a men was their art: it v?as by no fneans so certain that 

it liked their meaning. And so the literary public elected to 


that Shaw and Chesterton aufrnefc *eqM 

The audience mould glaclly have watched, a Shaw v, 

Chesterton ,o 


as a ahai .fight or* ai display -of fireworks., B 

ft -Jk tti i > i JU- <ft *o ft L/J^" s*l' k'" 

K 4^^ ^^A W W 

wao n^ ^hat 3haTf and Ctesterton were 


offoyttg them. Th^r were not to-^j allowed to sit in the stalls 

and applaud. Wwy .were themselves being challenged} and that 

Chesterton in his Autobiography comjlains of the 
falsity of most- of the pictures of England during the Victorian 
era. The languishing, fainting females who were in fact far 
stronger-minded than their grand-daughters today, the tyrannical 


Bernard Shaw 2,2,5 

whose aunt "had disinherited him for socialism because of a 
lecture he had delivered against that economic theory"; and 
I well remember how often after my own energetic attempts 
to explain why a Distributist was not a Socialist, I was met with 
a weary, 'Well, it's just the same/' It was just the same ques 
tion; it was an entirely different answer, but the audience, an 
noyed by the question, never seemed to listen to the answer. 
One man was saying: "Sweep away the old beliefs of humanity 
and start fresh"; the other was saying: "Rediscover your reasons 
for these profound beliefs, make them once more effective, for 
they are of the very nature of man/' 

Shaw and Chesterton were themselves deeply concerned 
about the answers. Both sincere, both dealing with realities, 
they were prepared to accept each other's sincerity and to fight 
the matter out, if need were, endlessly. Being writers they con 
ducted their discussions in writing: being journalists they did 
so mainly in the newspapers, to the delight or fury of other 
journalists. A jealous few were enraged at what they called 
publicity hunting, but most realised that it was not a private 
fight. Anyone might join in and a good many did. 

Belloc was in the fight as early as Chesterton, and of course, 
on the same side. G.B.S. who had invented "The Chesterbelloc" 
declared that Chesterton felt obliged to embrace the dogmas of 
Catholicism lest Belloc's soul should be damned. H. G. Wells 
agreed in the main with Shaw: both were Fabians and both 
were ready with a Fabian Utopia for humanity, which Belloc 
and Chesterton felt would be little better than a prison. Cecil 
Chesterton, coming in at an angle of his own, wrote some effec 
tive articles. He was a Fabian actually an official Fabian but 
his outlook already embraced many of the Chesterbelloc human 
and genial ideals, although he still ridiculed their Utopia of the 
peasant state, small ownership and all that came later to l*e 
called Distributism. Like the Clarion, the New Age f itself a 

226 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

socialist paper) saw the wisdom of giving a platform to both 
sides, and in this paper appeared the best articles that the con 
troversy produced. 

Meanwhile the private friendship between G.B.S. and G.K.C. 
was growing apace. Very early on, Shaw had begun to urge 
G.K, to write a play. G.K. was, perhaps, beginning to feel that 
newspaper controversy did not give him space to say all he 
wanted about Shaw (or perhaps it was merely that Messrs. Lane 
had persuaded him to promise them a book on Shaw for a series 
they were producing!). Anyhow, in a letter of 1908, Shaw again 
urges the play and gives interesting information for the book. 

Ayot St. Lawrence, Welwyn, Herts. 

ist March 1908. 

What about that play? It is no use trying to answer me in The 
New Age: the real answer to my article is the play. I have tried 
fair means: The New Age article was the inauguration of an assault 
below the belt. I shall deliberately destroy your credit as an essayist, 
as a journalist, as a critic, as a Liberal, as everything that offers your 
laziness a refuge, until starvation and shame drive you to serious 
dramatic parturition. I shall repeat my public challenge to you; 
vaunt my superiority; insult your corpulence; torture Belloc; if nec 
essary, call on you and steal your wife's affections by intellectual 
and athletic displays, until you contribute something to the British 
drama. You are played out as an essayist: your ardor is soddened, 
your intellectual substance crumbled, by the attempt to keep up 
the work of your twenties in your thirties. Another five years of this; 
and you will be the apologist of every infamy that wears a Liberal 
or Catholic mask. You, too, will speak of the portraits of Vecelli and 
the Assumption of Allegri, and declare that Democracy refuses to 
lackey-label these honest citizens as Titian and Correggio. Even 
that colossal fragment of your ruined honesty that still stupendously 
dismisses Beethoven as "some rubbish about a piano" will give way 
to remarks about "a graceful second subject in the relative minor/' 
Nothing can save you now except a rebirth as a dramatist. I have 
done my turn; and I now call on you to take yours and do a man's 

Bernard Shaw 22,7 

It is my solemn belief that it was my Quintessence of Ibsenism 
that rescued you and all your ungrateful generation from Material 
ism and Rationalism.* You were all tired young atheists turning to 
Kipling and Ruskinian Anglicanism whilst I, with the angel's wings 
beating in my ears from Beethoven's pth symphony (oh blasphemous 
walker in deafness), gave you in 1880 and 1881 two novels in which 
you had your Rationalist-Secularist hero immediately followed by 
my Beethovenian hero. True, nobody read them; but was that my 
fault? They are read now, it seems, mostly in pirated reprints, in 
spite of their appalling puerility and classical perfection of style 
(you are right as to my being a born pedant, like all great artists); 
and are at least useful as documentary evidence that I was no more 
a materialist when I wrote Love Among the Artists at 24 than when 
I wrote Candida at 39. 

My appearances on the platform of the Hall of Science were 
three in number. Once for a few minutes in a discussion, in oppo 
sition to Bradlaugh, who was defending property against Socialism. 
Bradlaugh died after that, though I do not claim to have killed him. 
The Socialist League challenged him to debate with me at St. 
James's Hall; but we could not or would not agree as to the propo 
sition to be debated, he insisting on my being bound by all the 
publications of the Democratic Federation (to which I did not 
belong) and I refusing to be bound by anything on earth or in 
heaven except the proposition that Socialism would benefit the 
English people. And so the debate never came off. 

Now in those days they were throwing Bradlaugh out of the 
House of Commons with bodily violence; and all one could do was 
to call oneself an atheist all over the place, which I accordingly did. 
At the first public meeting of the Shelley Society at University 
College, addressed by Stopford Brooke, I made my then famous 
(among 100 people) declaration "I am a Socialist, an Atheist and 
a Vegetarian" (ergo, a true Shelleyan) whereupon two ladies who 
had been palpitating with enthusiasm for Shelley under the impres 
sion that he was a devout Anglican, resigned on the spot, 

My second Hall of Science appearance was after the last of the 
Bradlaugh-Hyndman debates at St. James's Hall, where the two 
champions never touched the ostensible subject of 'their difference 
the Eight Hours Day at all, but simply talked Socialism or Anti- 
Socialism with a hearty dislike and contempt for one another. 

* C,f*rfl avowed this as far as he was concerned. G.B.S* 

228 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

G. V. Foote was then in his prime as the successor of Bradlaugh; 
and as neither the Secularists nor the Socialists were satisfied with 
the result of the debate, it was renewed for two nights at the Hall 
of Science between me and Foote. A verbatim report was published 
for sixpence and is now a treasure of collectors. Having the last word 
on the second night, I had to make a handsome wind-up; and the 
Secularists were much pleased by my declaring that I was alto 
gether on Foote's side in his struggle with the established religion 
of the country. 

When Bradlaugh died, the Secularists wanted a new leader, 
because B/s enormous and magnetic personality left a void that 
nobody was big enough to fill it was really like the death of Napo 
leon in that world. There was J. M. Robertson, Foote, and Charles 
Watts. But Bradlaugh liked Foote as little as most autocrats like 
their successors; and when he, before his death surrendered the gavel 
(the hammer for thumping the table to secure order at a meeting) 
which was the presidential sceptre of the National Secular Society, 
he did so with an ill will which he did not attempt to conceal; and 
so though Foote was the nearest size to Bradlaugh's shoes then avail 
able, he succeeded him at the disadvantage of inheriting the distrust 
of the old chief. J. M. Robertson you know: he was not a mob 
orator. Watts was not sufficient: he had neither Footers weight 
(being old) nor Robertson's scholarship. 

So whilst the survivors of Bradlaugh were trying to keep up the 
Hall of Science and to establish a memorial library, etc. there, they 
cast round for new blood. What more natural than that they should 
think of me as a man not afraid to call himself an atheist and able 
to hold his own on the platform? Accordingly, they invited me to 
address them; and one memorable night I held forth on Progress in 
Freethought, I was received with affectionate hope; and when the 
chairman announced that I was giving my share of the gate to the 
memorial library (I have never taken money for lecturing) the 
enthusiasm was quite touching. The anti-climax was super-Shavian. 
I proceeded to smash materialism, rationalism, and all the philosophy 
of Tyndall, Helmholtz, Darwin and the rest of the 1860 people into 
smithereens. I ridiculed and exposed every inference of science, and 
justified every dogma of religion, especially showing that the Trinity 
and the Immaculate Conception were the merest common sense. 
That finished me up as a possible leader of the N.S.S. Robertson 
came on the platform, white with honest Scotch Rationalist rage, 

Bernard Shaw 229 

and denounced me with a fury of conviction that startled his own 
followers. Never did I grace that platform again. I repeated the 
address once to a branch of the N.S.S. on, the south side of the 
Thames Kensington, I think and was interrupted by yells of xage 
from the veterans of the society. The Leicester Secularists, a pious 
folk, rich and independent of the N.S.S., were kinder to me; but 
they were no more real atheists than the congregation of St. Paul's 
is made wholly of real Christians. 

Foote is still bewildered about me, imagining that I am a pervert. 
But anybody who reads my stuff from the beginning (a Shelleyan 
beginning, as far as it could be labelled at all) will find implicit, 
and sometimes explicit, the views which, in their more matured 
form, will appear in that remarkable forthcoming masterpiece, 
"Shavianism: a Religion." 

By the way, I have omitted one more appearance at the Hall of 
Science. 'At a four nights' debate on Socialism between Foote and 
Mrs. Besant, I took the chair on one of the nights. 

I take advantage of a snowy Sunday afternoon to scribble all this 
down for you because you are in the same difficulty that beset me 
formerly: namely, the absolute blank in the history of the imme 
diate past that confronts every man when he first takes to public life. 
Written history stops several decades back; and the bridge of per 
sonal recollection on which older men stand does not exist for the 
recruit. Nothing is more natural than that you should reconstruct 
me as the last of the Rationalists (his real name is Blatchford); and 
nothing could b^e more erroneous. It would be much nearer the 
truth to call me, in that world, the first of the mystics. 

If you can imagine the result of trying to write your spiritual his 
tory in complete ignorance of painting, you will get a notion of try 
ing to write mine in ignorance of music. Bradlaugh was a tre 
mendous platform heavyweight; but he had never in his life, as 
far as I could make out, seen anything, heard anything or read any 
thing in the artistic sense. He was almost beyond belief incapable of 
intercourse in private conversation. He could tell you his adventures 
provided you didn't interrupt him (which you were mostly afraid 
to do, as the man was a mesmeric terror); but as to exchanging 
ideas, or expressing the universal part of his soul, you might as well 
have been reading the letters of Charles Dickens to his family 
those tragic monuments of dumbness of soul and noisiness of pen. 
Lord help you if you ever lose your gift of speech, G.KXXl Doirt 

230 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

forget that the race is only struggling out of its dumbness, and that 
it is only in moments of inspiration that we get out a sentence. 
All the rest is padding. 

Yours ever 


In the book on Shaw which appeared in August 1909, G.K. 
did as he had done with his other literary studies: gave (inac 
curately) only as much biography as seemed absolutely neces 
sary, and mainly discussed ideas. He saw Shaw as an Irishman, 
yet lacking the roots of nationality since he belonged to a mainly 
alien governing class. He saw him as a Puritan yet without the 
religious basis of Puritanism. And thirdly, he saw him as so 
swift a progressive as to be ahead of his own thought and ready 
to slay it in the name of progress. 

All these elements in Shaw made for strength but also created 
limitations, "Shaw is like the Venus of Milo; all that there is 
of him is admirable/' Where he fails is in being unable to see 
and embrace the full complexity of life. "His only paradox is to 
pull out one thread or cord of truth longer and longer into waste 
and fantastic places. He does not allow for that deeper sort of 
paradox by which two opposite cords of truth become entangled 
in an inextricable knot. Still less can he be made to realise that 
it is often this knot which ties safely together the whole bundle 
of human life . . . here lies the limitation of that lucid and 
compelling mind; he cannot quite understand life, because he 
will not accept its contradictions." Humanity is built of these 
contradictions, therefore Shaw pities humanity more than he 
loves it. "It was his glory that he pitied animals like men; it was 
his defect that he pitied men almost too much like animals. 
Foulon said of the democracy, 'Let them eat grass/ Shaw said, 
'Let them eat greens/ He had more benevolence but almost as 
much disdain." 

As a vegetarian and a water drinker Shaw himself lacked, in 
Chesterton's eyes, something of complete humanity. And in dis- 

Bernard Shaw 231 

cussing social problems he was more economist than man. "Shaw 
(one might almost say) dislikes murder, not so much because it 
wastes the life of the corpse as because it wastes the time of the 
murderer/* This lack of the full human touch is felt, even in the 
plays, because Shaw cannot be irrational where humanity always 
is irrational. In Candida "It is completely and disastrously false 
to the whole nature of falling in love to make the young Eugene 
complain of the cruelty which makes Candida defile her fair 
hands with domestic duties. No boy in love with a beautiful 
woman would ever feel disgusted when she peeled potatoes or 
trimmed lamps. He would like her to be domestic. He would 
simply feel that the potatoes had become poetical and the lamps 
gained an extra light. This may be irrational; but we are not 
talking of rationality, but of the psychology of first love.* It may 
be very unfair to women that the toil and triviality of potato- 
peeling should be seen through a glamour of romance; but the 
glamour is quite as certain a fact as the potatoes. It may be a 
bad thing in sociology that men should deify domesticity in 
girls as something dainty and magical; but all men do. Person 
ally I do not think it a bad thing at all; but that is another 
argument/ 1 f 

Yet Shaw's limitations are those of a great man and a genius. 
In an age of narrow specialism he has "stood up for the fact 
that philosophy is not the concern of those who pass through 
Divinity and Greats, but of those who pass through birth and 
death/' In an age that has almost chosen death, "Shaw follows 
the banner of life; but austerely, not joyously/' Nowhere, in 
dealing with Shaw's philosophy, does Chesterton note his debt 
to Butler. Shaw has himself mentioned it, and no reader of 
Butler could miss it, especially in this matter of the Life Force. 
It is the special paradox of our age, Chesterton notes, that the 

* No two love affairs are the same. This sentence assumed that they are aH 
the same. To Eugene, the poet living in a world of imagination and ab 
reality, Candida was what Dulcinea was to Don Quixote. G.B.S. 

t George Bernard Shaw, pp. 120-1. 

232, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

life force should thus need assertion and can thus be followed 
without joy. 

To every man and woman, bird, beast, and flower, life is a love- 
call to be eagerly followed. To Bernard Shaw it is merely a military 
bugle to be obeyed. In short, he fails to feel that the command of 
Nature (if one must use the anthropomorphic fable of Nature 
instead of the philosophic term God) can be enjoyed as well as 
obeyed. He paints life at its darkest and then tells the babe unborn 
to take the leap in the dark. That is heroic; and to my instinct at 
least Schopenhauer looks like a pigmy beside his pupil. But it is 
the heroism of a morbid and almost asphyxiated age. It is awful to 
think that this world which so many poets have praised has even 
for a time been depicted as a man-trap into which we may just have 
the manhood to jump. Think of all those ages through which men 
have talked of having the courage to die. And then remember that 
we have actually fallen to talking of having the courage to live.* 

Here comes the great parting of the two men's thought. G.K. 
believed in God and in joy. But he saw that Shaw had much of 
value for this strange diseased world. His primary value was 
not merely (as some said) that he woke it up. The literary world 
might not be awake to the social evil, but it was painfully awake 
to the ills, real or imaginary, inherent in human life. 

We do not need waking up; rather we suffer from insomnia, with 
all its results of fear and exaggeration and frightful waking dreams. 
The modern mind is not a donkey which wants kicking to make 
it go on. The modern mind is more like a motor-car on a lonely 
road which two amateur motorists have been just clever enough to 
take to pieces but are not quite clever enough to put together again.f 

Shaw had not merely asked questions of the age: that would 
have been worse than useless. What he had done was at mo 
ments to rise above his own thoughts and give, through his 
characters, inspired answers: G.K. instances Candida, with its 

* George Bernard Shaw. Week-End Library, p. 190. 
f Ibid, pp, 245-6. 

Bernard Shaw 233 

revelation of the meaning of marriage when the woman stays 
with the strong man because he is so weak and needs her. And 
Shaw had brought back philosophy into drama that is, he had 
recreated the atmosphere, lost since Shakespeare,* in which men 
were thinking, and might, therefore, find the answers that the 
age needed. And here again we come back to the world which 
these men were shaking and to the respective philosophies with 
which they looked at it. It was a world of conventions and these 
conventions had become empty of meaning. Throw them away, 
said Shaw and Wells; no, said Chesterton; keep them and look 
for their meaning; Revolution does not mean destruction: it 
means restoration. 

The same sort of discussion buzzed around this book as 
around the controversies of which it might be called a prolonga 
tion. Shaw himself reviewed it in an article in the Nation, in 
which he called it, "the best work of literary art I have yet pro 
voked. . . . Everything about me which Mr. Chesterton had 
to divine he has divined miraculously. But everything that he 
could have ascertained easily by reading my own plain directions 
on the bottle, as it were, remains for him a muddled and pain 
ful problem/' From an interchange of private letters it would 
seem that the move to Beaconsfield took place later in this year 
than I had supposed. Bernard Shaw's letter is probably not writ 
ten many days after an undated one to him from G.K. : 

48, Overstrand Mansions, 
Battersea Park. S.W. 

I trust our recent tournaments have not rendered it contrary to 
the laws of romantic chivalry (which you reverence so much) for 
me to introduce to you my friend Mr. Pepler, who is a very nice 
man indeed though a social idealist, and who has, I believe, some 
thing of a practical sort to ask of you. Please excuse abruptness in 

* Hard on Goethe and Ibsen, to say nothing of Mozart's Magic Flute and 
Beethoven's 9th symphony. G.B.S. 

Of course, I meant English drama. M.W. 

234 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

this letter of introduction; we are moving into the country and 
every piece of furniture I begin to write at is taken away and put 
into a van. 

Always yours sincerely, 


10, Adelphi Terrace, W.C. 
3oth October 1909. 


I saw your man and consoled him spiritually; but that is not 
the subject of this letter. I still think that you could write a useful 
sort of play if you were started. When I was in Kerry last month 
I had occasionally a few moments to spare; and it seemed to me 
quite unendurable that you should be wasting your time writing 
books about me. I liked the book very much, especially as it was so 
completely free from my own influence, being evidently founded 
on a very hazy recollection of a five-year-old perusal of Man and 
Superman; but a lot of it was fearful nonsense. There was one good 
thing about the scientific superstition which you came a little too 
late for. It taught a man to respect facts. You have no conscience in 
this respect; and your punishment is that you substitute such dull 
inferences as my ''narrow puritan home" for delightful and fantas 
tic realities which you might very easily have ascertained if you had 
taken greater advantage of what is really the only thing to be said 
in favour of Battersea; namely, that it is within easy reach of Adelphi 
Terrace. However, I have no doubt that when Wilkins Micawber 
junior grew up and became eminent in Australia, references were 
made to his narrow puritan home; so I do not complain. If you 
had told the truth, nobody would have believed it. 

Now to business. When one breathes Irish air, one becomes a 
practical man. la England I used to say what a pity it was you did 
not write a play. In Ireland I sat down and began writing a scenario 
for you. But before I could finish it I had come back to London; 
and now it is all up with the scenario: in England I can do nothing 
but talk. I therefore now send you the thing as far as I scribbled it; 
and I leave you to invent what escapades you please for the hero, 
and to devise some sensational means of getting him back to heaven 

Bernard Shaw 235 

again, unless you prefer to end with the millennium in full 

But experience has made me very doubtful of the efficacy of help 
as the means of getting work out of the right sort of man. When I 
was young I struck out one invaluable rule for myself, which was, 
Whenever you meet an important man, contradict him. If possible, 
insult him. But such a rule is one of the privileges of youth. I no 
longer live by rules. Yet there is one way in which you may possibly 
be insultable. It can be plausibly held that you are a venal ruffian, 
pouring forth great quantities of immediately saleable stuff, but 
altogether declining to lay up for yourself treasures in heaven. It 
may be that you cannot afford to do otherwise. Therefore I am quite 
ready to make a deal with you. 

A full length play should contain about 18,000 words (mine fre 
quently contain two or three times that number). I do not know 
what your price per thousand is. I used to be considered grossly 
extortionate by Massingham and others for insisting on 3. 18,000 
words at 3 per thousand is 54. I need make no extra allowance 
for the republication in book form, because even if the play aborted 
as far as the theatre is concerned, you could make a book of it all 
the same. Let us assume that your work is worth twice as much as 
mine: this would make 108. I have had two shockingly bad 
years of it pecuniarily speaking, and am therefore in that phase of 
extravagance which straitened means have always produced in me. 
Knock off 8% as a sort of agent's commission to me for starting 
you on the job and finding you a theme. This leaves 100. I will 
pay you 100 down on your contracting to supply me within three 
months with a mechanically possible, i.e., stageable drama dealing 
with the experiences of St. Augustine after re-visiting England. 
The literary copyright to be yours, except that you are not to prevent 
me making as many copies as I may require for stage use. The stage 
right to be mine; but you are to have die right to buy it back from 
me for 250 whenever you like.t The play, if performed, to be 
announced as your work and not as a collaboration. All rights which 
I may have in the scenario to go with the stage right and literary 
copyright as prescribed as far as you may make use of it. What do 
you say?? There is a lot of spending in 100. 

* The scenario dealt with the return of St. Augustine to the England lie 
remembered converting. 

fl could not very well offer him 100 as a present. G.B.S. 

236 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

One condition more. If it should prove impossible to achieve a 
performance otherwise than through the Stage Society (which does 
not pay anything), a resort to that body is not to be deemed a 
breach of the spirit of our agreement. 

Do you think it would be possible to make Belloc write a com 
edy? If he could only be induced to believe in some sort of God 
instead of in that wretched little conspiracy against religion which 
the pious Romans have locked up in the Vatican, one could get 
some drive into him. As it is, he is wasting prodigious gifts in the 
service of King Leopold and the Pope and other ghastly scarecrows. 
If he must have a Pope, there is quite a possible one at Adelphi 

For the next few days I shall be at my country quarters, Ayot St. 
Lawrence, Welwyn, Herts. I have a motor car which could carry 
me on sufficient provocation as far as Beaconsfield; but I do not 
know how much time you spend there and how much in Fleet 
Street. Are you only a week-ender; or has your wise wife taken you 
properly in hand and committed you to a pastoral life. 

Yours ever, 


P.S. Remember that the play is to be practical (in the common 
managerial sense) only in respect of its being mechanically pos 
sible as a stage representation. It is to be neither a likely-to-be- 
successful play nor a literary lark: it is to be written for the good 
of all souls. 

Among the reviewers of the book, our old friend, the Academy, 
surprised me by hating Shaw so much more than Chesterton 
that the latter came off quite lightly. There was a good deal 
of the usual misunderstanding and lists were made of self- 
contradictions on the author's part. Still in the main the press 
was sympathetic and even enthusiastic. But when Shaw re 
viewed Chesterton on Shaw, more than one paper waxed sar 
castic on the point of royalties and remuneration gained by 
these means. The funniest of the more critical comments on the 
way these men wrote of one another was a suggestion made in 
the Bystander that Shaw and Chesterton were really the same 

Bernard Shaw 237 

. . . Shaw, it is said, tired of Socialism, weary of wearing Jaegers, 
and broken down by teetotalism and vegetarianism, sought, some 
years ago, an escape from them. His adoption, however, of these 
attitudes had a decided commercial value, which he did not think it 
advisable to prejudice by wholesale surrender. Therefore he, in order 
to taste the forbidden joys of individualistic philosophy, meat, food 
and strong drink, created "Chesterton." This mammoth myth, he 
decided, should enjoy all the forms of fame which Shaw had to 
deny himself. Outwardly, he should be Shaw's antithesis. He should 
be beardless, large in girth, smiling of countenance, and he should 
be licensed to sell paradoxes only in essay and novel form, all stage 
and platform rights being reserved by Shaw. 

To enable the imposition to be safely carried out, Shaw hit on 
the idea of residence close to the tunnel which connects Adelphi 
with the Strand. Emerging from his house plain, Jaeger-clad, bearded 
and saturnine Shaw, he entered the tunnel, in a cleft in which was 
a cellar. Here he donned the Chesterton properties, the immense 
padding of chest, and so on, the Chesterton sombrero hat and cloak 
and pince-nez, and there he left the Shaw beard and the Shaw 
clothes, the Shaw expression of countenance, and all the Shaw theo 
ries. He emerged into the Strand "G.K.C.," in whose identity he 
visited all the cafes, ate all the meats, rode in all the cabs, and smiled 
on all the sinners. The day's work done, the Chesterton manuscripts 
delivered, the proofs read, the bargains driven, the giant figure re 
turned to the tunnel, and once again was back in Adelphi, the 
Shaw he was when he left it back to the Jaegers, the beard, the 
Socialism, the statistics, and the sardonic letters to the Times* 

Bernard Shaw is a man of unusual generosity, but I think 
from his letters he must also be quite a good man of business. 
G.K. was so greatly the opposite that G.B.S. urged him again 
and again to do the most ordinary things to protect the literary 
rights of himself and others. Thus, in the only undated letter in 
the whole packet, he begs Gilbert to back up the Authors' 


I am one of the unhappy slaves who, on the two big committees 
of your Trade Union (the Society of Authors) drudge at the heart- 

* From The Bystander, i September, 1909. 

238 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

breaking work of defending our miserable profession against being 
devoured, body and soul, by the publishersthemselves a pitiful 
gang of literature-struck impostors who are crumpled up by the 
booksellers, who, though small folk, are at least in contact with 
reality in the shape of the book buyer. It is a ghastly and infuriating 
business, because the authors will go to lunch with their publishers 
and sell them anything for 20 over the cigarettes, but it has to 
be done; and I, with half a dozen others, have to do it. 

Now I missed the last committee meeting (electioneering: I am 
here doing two colossal meetings of miners every night for Keir 
Hardie); but the harassed secretary writes that it was decided to 
take proceedings in the case of a book of yours which you (oh Esau, 
Esau!) sold to John (John is a well no matter: when you take 
your turn on the committee you will find him out) and that 
though the German lawyer has had 7 and is going ahead (7 
worth of law in Germany takes you to the House of Lords) every 
thing is hung up because you will not answer Thring's* letters. 
Thring, in desperation, appeals to me, concluding with character 
istic simplicity that we must be friends because you have written 
a book about me. As the conclusion is accidentally and improbably 
true, I now urge you to give him whatever satisfaction he requires. 
I have no notion what it is, or what the case is about; but at least 
answer his letters, however infuriating they may be. Remember: 
you pay Thring only 500, for which you get integrity, incor 
ruptibility, implacability, and a disposition greatly to find quarrel in 
a straw on your behalf (even with yourself) and don't complain 
if you don't get 20,000 worth of tact into the bargain. And your 
obligations to us wretched committee men are simply incalculable. 
We get nothing but abuse and denigration: authors weep with 
indignation when we put our foot on some blood-sucking, widow- 
cheating, orphan starving scoundrel and ruthlessly force him to keep 
to his mite of obligation under an agreement which would have 
revolted Shylock: unless the best men, the Good Professionals, help 
us, we are lost. We get nothing and spend our time like water for 

All we ask you to do is to answer Thring and let us get along 
with your work. 

* Herbert Thring was the barrister employed by the Society of Authors. 

Bernard Shaw 239 

Look here: will you write to Thring. 

Please write to Thring. 

I say: have you written to Thring yet? 


I doubt whether he had. Those chance sums he poured From 
time to time into Frances* lap were usually not what they should 
have been, an advance on a royalty. Orthodoxy he sold outriglmt 
for 100. No man ever worked so hard to earn so little. 

When later Gilbert employed Messrs. A, P. Watt as his lit 
erary agents a letter to them (undated, of course, and -written 
on the old notepaper of his first Battersea flat) shows a mingling 
of gratitude to his agents with entire absence of resentmeat 
towards his publishers, which might be called essence of Ches 

The prices you have got me for books, compared with wkat J 
used weakly to demand, seem to me to come out of fairyland. 1 1 
seems to me that there is a genuine business problem which creates 
a permanent need for a literary agent. It consists in this that oin 
work, even when it has become entirely a duty and a worry, still 
remains in some vague way a pleasure. And how can we put a fabr 
price on what is at once a worry and a pleasure? Suppose someone 
comes to me and says, "I offer you sixpence for your History of fa& 
Gnostic Heresy" Why, after all, should I charge more than sixpence 
for a work it was so exuberant to write? You, on the other hand, 
seeing it from the outside, would say that it was worth so and 
so. And you would get it. 

Shaw continued his attempts to stimulate the reluctant play 
wright. Two years after drafting the scenario, he writes: 

10 Adelphi Terrace, W.d 

5th April 1912, 

I have promised to drive somebody to Beaconsfield on Siuaday 
morning; and I shall be in that district more or less for the test oC 
the day. If you are spending Easter at Overroads, and have no irisfe- 

240 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

tors who couldn't stand us, we should like to call on you at any 
time that would be convenient. 

The convenience of time depends on a design of my own which 
I wish to impart to you first. I want to read a play to Gilbert. It 
began by way of being a music-hall sketch; so it is not 3^2 hours 
long as usual: I can get through it in an hour and a half. I want 
to insult and taunt and stimulate Gilbert with it. It is the sort of 
thing he could write and ought to write: a religious harlequinade.* 
In fact, he could do it better if a sufficient number of pins were 
stuck into him. My proposal is that I read the play to him on Sun 
day (or at the next convenient date), and that you fall into trans 
ports of admiration of it; declare that you can never love a man who 
cannot write things like that; and definitely announce that if Gil 
bert has not finished a worthy successor to it before the end of the 
third week next ensuing, you will go out like the lady in A Doll's 
House, and live your own life whatever that dark threat may mean. 

If you are at home, I count on your ready complicity; but the 
difficulty is that you may have visitors; and if they are pious Gilbert 
will be under a tacit obligation not to blaspheme, or let me blas 
pheme, whilst they are beneath his roof (my play is about Christian 
Martyrs, and perfectly awful in parts); and if they are journalists, 
it will be necessary to administer an oath of secrecy. I don't object 
to the oath; and nothing would please Gilbert more than to make 
them drink blood from a skull: the difficulty is, they wouldn't keep 
it. In short, they must be the right sort of people, of whom the 
more the merrier. 

Forgive this long rigmarole: it is only to put you in possession of 
what may happen if you approve, and your invitations and domestic 
circumstances are propitious. 

Yours sincerely, 


Chesterton at last did write Magic but that belongs to another 

Like the demand for a play, the theme of finance recurs with 
great frequency in Shaw's letters, and after Magic appeared he 
wrote to Frances telling her that "in Sweden, where the marriage 
laws are comparatively enlightened, I believe you could obtain 

* Androdes and The Lion evidently. G.B.S. 

Bernard Shaw 2,41 

a divorce on the ground that your husband threw away an im 
portant part of the provision for your old age for twenty pieces 
of silver. ... In future, the moment he has finished a play 
and the question of disposing of it arises, lock him up and bring 
the agreement to me. Explanations would be thrown away on 


From Battersea to Beaconsfiela 

IN 1909, WITH Orthodoxy well behind him, and George 'Ber 
nard, Shaw just published, Gilbert and his wife left London 
for the small country town that was to be their home for the 
rest of their lives. It was an odd coincidence that they should 
leave Overstrand Mansions, Battersea, and come to Overroads, 
Beaconsfield, for they did not name their new home but found 
it ready christened. 

It will be remembered that in one of the letters during the 
engagement Gilbert had suggested a country home. The reason 
for the choice of Beaconsfield he gives in the Autobiography: 

After we were married, my wife and I lived for about a year in 
Kensington, the place of my childhood; but I think we both knew 
that it was not to be the real place for our abode. I remember that 
we strolled out one day, for a sort of second honeymoon, and went 
upon a journey into the void, a voyage deliberately objectless. I saw 
a passing omnibus labelled "Hanwell" and, feeling this to be an 
appropriate omen,* we boarded it and left it somewhere at a stray 
Station, which I entered and asked the man in the ticket-office where 
;the next train went to. He uttered the pedantic reply, "Where do 
you want to go to?" And I uttered the profound and philosophical 
rejoinder, "Wherever the next train goes to/* It seemed that it went 
to Slough; which may seem to be singular taste, even in a train. 
However, we went to Slough, and from there set out walking with 
even less notion of where we were going. And in that fashion we 
passed through the large and quiet cross-roads of a sort of village, 

* At Hanwell is London's most famous lunatic asylum. 


From Battersea to Beacons-field 243 

and stayed at an inn called The White Hart. We asked the name 
of the place and were told that it was called Beaconsfield (I mean 
of course that it was called Beconsfield and not Beaconsfield), and 
we said to each other, "This is the sort of place where some day we 
will make our home/' * 

They both wanted a home. They both deeply desired a fam 
ily. The wish is normal to both man and woman, normal in a 
happy marriage, and theirs was unusually happy; it was almost 
abnormally keen in both Frances and Gilbert. Few men have 
so greatly loved children. As a schoolboy his letters are full of 
it making friends with Scottish children on the sands, with 
French children by the medium of pictures. Later he was writ 
ing "In Defence of Baby Worship" and welcoming with enthusi 
asm the arrival of his friends' children into the world. 

In the Notebook he had written: 

Sunlight in a child's hair. 

It is like the kiss of Christ upon all children. 
I blessed the child: and hoped the blessing 
would go with him 

And never leave him; 
And turn first into a toy, and then into a game 

And then into a friend, 
And as he grew up, into friends 

And then into a woman. 


Grass and children 

There seems no end to them. 

But if there were but one Hade of grass 

Men would see that it is fairer than lilies, 

And if we saw the first child 

We should worship it as the God come on earth. 


I find that most round things are nice, 
Particularly Eternity and a baby. 

* Autobiography, p. 219. 

244 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Frances cared no less deeply both for Eternity and for babies 
and for many years went on hoping for the family that would 
complete their lives. At last it was decided to have an opera 
tion to enable her to have children. Her doctor writes: 

I well remember an incident which occurred during her con 
valescence from that operation. I received a telephone call from the 
matron of the Nursing Home in which Mrs. Chesterton was stay 
ing, suggesting that I should come round and remonstrate with 
Mr. Chesterton. On my arrival I found him sitting on the stairs, 
where he had been for two hours, greatly incommoding passers up 
and down and deaf to all requests to move on. It appeared that he 
had written a sonnet to his wife on her recovery from the operation 
and was bringing it to give her. He was not however satisfied with 
the last line, but was determined to perfect it before entering her 
room to take tea with her. 

By the time they left London she must, I think, have given up 
the hope she had so long cherished. Still if there could not be 
children there might be perhaps something of a home. In the 
conditions of their life, there was danger that any house of bricks 
and mortar should be rather a headquarters than a home, and 
it was lucky that he was able to feel she took home with her 
wherever they went 

Your face that is a wandering home 
A flying home for me. 

The years before them were to be filled with the vast activities 
that not only took Gilbert to London and all over England inces 
santly, but were to take him increasingly over Europe and 
America. Beaconsfield gave a degree of quiet that made it pos 
sible, when they were able to be at home, not to be swamped 
by engagements and to lead a life of their own. Gilbert could go 
to London when he liked, but he need not always be on tap, so 
to say, for all the world. Frances could have a garden and indulge 
her hungry appetite for all that was fruitful. G.K., later, under 

From Battersea to Beacons-field 245 

the tide "The Homelessness of Jones" * showed his love for a 
house rather than a flat, and they gave even to their first little 
house "Overroads" the stamp of a real home. 

For a man and his wife to leave London for the country 
might seem to be their own affair. Not so, however, with the 
Chestertons. After a lapse of over thirty years I find the matter 
still a subject of furious controversy and indeed passion. Frances, 
says one school of opinion, committed a crime against the pub 
lic good by removing Gilbert from Fleet Street. No, says the 
other school, she had to move him or he would have died of 
working too hard and drinking too much. The suggestion, which 
I believe to be a fact, that Gilbert himself wanted to move, is 
seldom entertained. 

There is in all this the legitimate feeling of distress among 
any group at losing its chief figure, its pride and joy. "I lost 
Gilbert," Lucian Oldershaw once said, "first when I introduced 
him to Belloc, next when he married Frances, and finally when 
he joined the Catholic Church. ... I rejoiced, though per 
haps with a maternal sadness, at all these fulfillments." 

Cecil wanted his brother always on hand. Belloc was already 
in the country a far more remote country but even he, coming 
up to London, mourned to my mother, "She has taken my Ches 
terton from me." Talking it over however after the lapse of 
years, he agreed that in all probability the move was a wise one. 
What may be called the smaller fry of Fleet Street are less rea 
sonable. One cannot avoid the feeling that in all this masculine 
life so sure of its manhood, there lingered something of the 
"schwarmerei" of the Junior Debating Club furiously desiring 
each to be first with Gilbert. And in his love of Fleet Street he 
so identified himself with them all that they felt he was one of 
them and did not recognise the horizons wider than theirs that 
were opening before him. 

My husband and I are experts in changing residences and 

* A chapter in What's Wrong with the World. 

246 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

we listened with the amusement of experts to the talk of theo 
rists. For it was so constantly assumed that on one side of a 
choice is disaster, on the other perfection. Actually perfection 
does not belong to this earthly state: if you go to Rome, as Gil 
bert himself once said, you sacrifice a rich suggestive life at 
Wimbledon. Newman writing of a far greater and more irrevoca 
ble choice called his story Loss and Gain 'but he had no doubt 
that the gain outweighed the loss. There were in Gilbert's adult 
life three other big decisions decisions of the scale that altered 
its course. The first was his marriage. The second was his recep 
tion into the Church. The third was his continued dedication to 
the paper that his brother and Belloc had founded. In deciding 
to marry Frances he was acting against his mother's wishes, to 
which he was extremely sensitive. His decision to become a 
Catholic had to be made alone: he had the sympathy of his wife 
but not her companionship. In the decision to edit the paper 
he had not even fully her sympathy: she always felt his creative 
work to be so much more important and to be imperilled by the 
overwork the paper brought. Gilbert was a man slow in action 
but it would be exceedingly difficult to find instances of his doing 
anything that he did not want to do. The theorists about mar 
riage are like the theorists about moving house, if they do not 
know that decisions made by one party alone are rare indeed 
and stick out like spikes in the life of a normal and happy 
couple. Of the vast majority of decisions it is hard to say who 
makes them. They make themselves: after endless talk: on the 
tops of omnibuses going to Han well or elsewhere: out walking: 
breakfastingespecially breakfasting in bed. They make them 
selvesabove all in the matter of a move in fine weather: dur 
ing a holiday: on a hot London Sunday: when a flat is stuffy: 
when the telephone rings all day: when a book is on the stocks. 
Other writers have left London that they might create at 
leisure and choose their own times for social intercourse. Why 
does no one say their wives dragged them away? Simply, 1 


From Battersea to Beaconsfield 247 

think, that being less kind and considerate than Gilbert, they 
do not mind telling their friends that they are not always wanted. 
This Gilbert could not do. If people said how they would miss 
him, how they hated his going, he would murmur vague and 
friendly sounds, from which they deduced all they wanted to 
deduce. Was it more weakness or strength, that tenderness of 
heart that could never faintly suggest to his friends that they 
would miss him more than he would miss them? "I never wanted 
but one thing in my life," he had written to Annie Firmin. And 
that "one thing" he was taking with him. 

Anyhow, the move accomplished, he enjoyed defending it in 
every detail, and did so especially in his Daily News articles. 
The rush to the country was not uncommon in the literary 
world of the moment, and his journalist friends had urged the 
point that Beaconsfield was not true country, was suburban, was 
being built over. His friends, G.K. replied, were suffering from 
a weak-minded swing from one extreme to the other. Men who 
had praised London as the only place to live in were now vying 
with one another to live furthest from a station, to have no chim 
neys visible on the most distant horizon, to depend on tradesmen 
who only called once a week from cities so distant that fresh- 
baked loaves grew stale before delivery. "Rival ruralists would 
quarrel about which had the most completely inconvenient 
postal service; and there were many jealous heartburnings if 
one friend found out any uncomfortable situation which the 
other friend had thoughdessly overlooked." 

Gilbert, on the contrary, noted soon after his arrival that 
Beaconsfield was beginning to be built over and he noted it 
with satisfaction. "Within a stone's throw of my house they are 
building another house. I am glad they are building it and I am 
glad it is within a stone's throw." He did not want a desert, 
he did not want a large landed estate, he wanted what lie tad 
got a house and a garden. He adventurously explored that gar^ 
den, finding a kitchen-garden that had "somehow got attaduesd? 

248 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

to the premises, and wondering why he liked it; speaking to the 
gardener, "an enterprise of no little valour/' and asking him the 
name "of a strange dark red rose, at once theatrical and sulky/' 
which turned out to be called Victor Hugo; "watching (with 
regret) a lot of little black pigs being turned out of my garden/' 

Watching the neighbouring house grow up from its founda 
tion he noted in an article called, 'The Wings of Stone/' what 
was the reality of a staircase. We pad them with carpets and rail 
them with banisters, yet every "staircase is truly only an awful 
and naked ladder running up into the infinite to a deadly 
height." (A correspondent pointed out in a letter to the Daily 
News that here he had touched a reality keenly felt by primi 
tive peoples. When Cetewayo, King of Zululand, visited Lon 
don, he would go upstairs only on hands and knees and that 
with manifest terror.) The paddings of civilisation may be 
useful, yet Gilbert held more valuable a realisation of the reali 
ties of things. Vision is not fancy, but the sight of truth. 

In the Notebook he had written 

There are three things that make me t-Viirilc; 

things beyond all poetry: 
A yellow space or rift in evening sky: 
A chimney or pinnacle high in the air; 
And a path over a hill. 

Chesterton had always the power of conveying in words a 
painter's vision of some unforgettable scene with the poet's 
words for what the artist not only sees but imagines. Such flashes 
became more frequent as he looked through the doorway of 
his little house. Go through The Ball and the Cross with this in 
mind and you will see what I mean. "The crimson seas of the 
sunset seemed to him like a bursting out of some sacred blood, 
as if the heart of the world had broken/' "There is nothing 
more beautiful than thus to look as it were through the arch 
way of a house; as if the open sky were an interior chamber, 

From Battersea to Beaconsfield 249 

and the sun a secret lamp of the place/' Best of all to illustrate 
this special quality is a longer passage from the Poet and the 

For the most part he was contented to see the green semicircles 
of lawn repeat themselves like a pattern of green moons; for he 
was not one to whom repetition was merely monotony. Only in 
looking over a particular gate at a particular lawn, he became pleas 
antly conscious, or half conscious, of a new note of colour in the 
greenness; a much bluer green, which seemed to change to vivid 
blue, as the object at which he was gazing moved sharply, turning 
a small head on a long neck. It was a peacock. But he had thought 
of a thousand things before he thought of the obvious thing. The 
burning blue of the plumage on the neck had reminded him of blue 
fire, and blue fire had reminded him of some dark fantasy about 
blue devils, before he had fully realised even that it was a peacock 
he was staring at. And the tail, that trailing tapestry of eyes, had 
led his wandering wits away to those dark but divine monsters of 
the Apocalypse whose eyes were multiplied like their wings, before 
he had remembered that a peacock, even in a more practical sense, 
was an odd thing to see in so ordinary a setting. 

Yet always to Chesterton the beauty of nature was enhanced 
by the work of men, and if in London men had swarmed too 
closely, it was not to get away from them but to appreciate them 
more individually that he chose the country. Yes, his literary 
friends would say: in the real country that is true: the fanner, 
the labourer, even the village barber and the village tradesmen 
are worth knowing, but not suburban neighbours. Against such 
discrimination the whole democracy of Chesterton stood in 
revolt. All men were valuable, all men were interesting, the 
doctor as much as the barber, the clergyman as much as the 
farmer. All men were children of God and citizens of the world. 
If he had a choice in the matter it was discrimination against 
the literary world itself with all the fads that tended to smother 
its essential humanity. Nothing would have indiiced TITTTT to 
discriminate against the suburban. In the last year of his life 

250 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

he wrote in the Autobiography: "I have lived in Beaconsfield 
from the time when it was almost a village, to the time when, 
as the enemy profanely says, it is a suburb/' 

For the author of The Napoleon of Netting Hill this would 
hardly be a conclusive argument against any place. We should, 
he once said, "regard the important suburbs as ancient cities 
embedded in a sort of boiling lava spouted up by that volcano, 
the speculative builder/' That "lava" itself he found interesting, 
but beneath or beside it a little town like Beaconsfield had its 
share in the great sweep of English history. Something of the 
"seven sunken Englands" could be found in the Old Town 
which custom marked off pretty sharply from the "New Town/* 
Burke had lived in Beaconsfield and was buried there; and 
Gilbert once suggested to Mr. Garvin that they should appear 
at a local festival, respectively as Fox ("a part for which I have 
no claim except in circumference") and Burke ("I admire Burke 
in many things while disagreeing with him in nearly every 
thing. But Mr. Garvin strikes me as being rather like Burke"). 

At the barber's he was often seen sitting at the end of a line 
patiently awaiting his turn, for he could never shave himself 
and it was only years later that Dorothy Collins conceived and 
put into execution the bold project of bringing the barber to 
the house. Probably an article would be shaping while he waited 
and the barber's conversation might put the finishing touches 
to it. There were in fact two barbers, one of the old town, one 
of die new. "I once planned/' he says, "a massive and exhaustive 
sociological work, in several volumes, which was to be called 
The Two Barbers of Beaconsfield' and based entirely upon the 
talk of die two excellent citizens to whom I went to get shaved. 
For those two shops do indeed belong to two different civilisa 

Despite his love for London, Gilbert had always felt that 
life in a country town held one point of special superiority in 
it you discovered the Community. In London you chose your 

From Batter sea to Beaconsfield 251 

friends which meant that you narrowed your life to people of 
one kind. He had noted in the family itself a valuable widening: 

The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk sud 
denly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something 
of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do 
lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. 
Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common ex 
pression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by 
the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, 
into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which 
could do without us, into a world that we have not made.* 

Here in Beaconsfield the Chestertons grew into the commu 
nity: the clergyman, the doctor, the inn-keeper, the barber, the 
gardener. And like the relatives who spring upon you at birth 
these worthy citizens seemed to Gilbert potentials of vast excite 
ment and varied interest. Discussing an event of much later 
date a meeting to decide whether a crucifix might be erected 
as a local war memorial he thus describes the immense forces 
he found in that small place: 

Those who debated the matter were a little group of the inhabi 
tants of a little country town; the rector and the doctor and the 
bank manager and the respectable tradesmen of the place, with a 
few hangers-on like myself, of the more disreputable professions of 
journalism or the arts. But the powers that were present there in 
the spirit came out of all the ages and all the battlefields of history; 
Mahomet was there and the Iconoclasts, who came riding out of the 
East to ruin the statues of Italy, and Calvin and Rousseau and the 
Russian anarchs and all the older England that is buried under 
Puritanism; and Henry the Third ordering the little images for 
Westminster and Henry the Fifth, after Agincourt, on his knees 
before the shrines of Paris, If one could really write that little story 
of that little place, it would be the greatest of historical monogiaphs.f 

A keen observer often added to the Beaconsfield comimmity 
in those days was Father (now Monsignor) John O'Connor, 
* Heretic*, pp. 191-2. -f Autobiography f p* 244. 

252. Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

close friend of both Gilbert and Frances and inspirer of "Father 
Brown" of detective fame. They had first become friends in 
1904 when they met at the house of a friend in Keighley, York 
shire, and walked back over the moors together to visit Francis 
Steinthal at Ilkley. This Jew, of Frankfort descent, was a great 
friend of the Chestertons and on their many visits to him the 
friendship with Father O'Connor ripened. With both Frances 
and Gilbert it was among the closest of their lives. Their 
letters to him show it: the long talks, and companionable walks 
over the moors, have an atmosphere of intimacy that is all the 
more convincing because so little stressed in his book. Father 
O'Connor has a pardonable pride in the idea that their talks 
suggested ideas to Gilbert, he takes pleasure in his character of 
'Tather Brown," but he reveals the atmosphere of unique con 
fidence and intimacy by the very absence of all parade of it. 

Both he and Gilbert have told the story of how the idea of 
the detective priest first dawned. On their second meeting Father 
O'Connor had startled, indeed almost shattered Gilbert, with 
certain rather lurid knowledge of human depravity which he 
had acquired in the course of his priestly experience. At the 
house to which they were going, two Cambridge undergradu 
ates spoke disparagingly of the "cloistered" habits of the Catho 
lic clergy, saying that to them it seemed that to know and meet 
evil was a far better thing than the innocence of such ignorance. 
To Gilbert, still under the shock of a knowledge compared with 
which "these two Cambridge gentlemen knew about as much 
of real evil as two babies in the same perambulator," the exqui 
site irony of this remark suggested a thought. Why not a whole 
comedy of cross purposes based on the notion of a priest with 
a iaiowledge of evil deeper than that of the criminal he is con 
verting? He carried out this idea in the story of 'The Blue 
Cross," the first Father Brown detective story. Father O'Connor's 
account adds the details that he had himself once boasted of buy 
ing five sapphires for five shillings, and that he always carried 

From Battersea to Beaconsfield 253 

a large umbrella and many brown paper parcels. At the Stein- 
thai dining table, an artist friend of the family made a sketch 
of Father O'Connor which later appeared on the wrapper of 
The Innocence of Father Brown. 

Beyond one or two touches of this sort the idea had been a 
suggestion for a character, not a portrait, and in the Autobiog 
raphy and in the Dickens Gilbert has a good deal to say of inter 
est to the novelist about how such suggestions come and are 
used. He never believed that Dickens drew a portrait, as it 
were, in the round. Nature just gives hints to the creative artist. 
And it used to amuse "Father Brown" to find that such touches 
of observation as noting where an ash-tray had got hidden 
behind a book seemed to Gilbert quasi miraculous. Left to 
himself he merely dropped ashes on the floor from his cigar. 
"He did not smoke a pipe and cigarettes were prone to set him 
on fire in one place or another/' 

A frequent visitor, Father O'Connor noted his fashion of 
work and reading, and the abstracted way he often moved and 
spoke. "Gall it mooning, but he never mooned. He was always 
working out something in his mind, and when he drifted from 
his study to the garden and was seen making deadly passes with 
his sword-stick at the dahlias, we knew that he had got to a 
dead end in his composition and was getting his thoughts into 

He played often, too, with a huge knife which he had for 
twenty-four years. He took it abroad with him, took it to bed: 
Frances had to retrieve it often from under his pillow in some 
hotel. Once at a lecture in Dublin he drew it absent-mindedly to 
sharpen a pencil: as it was seven and a half inches long shut, and 
fourteen open, the amusement of the audience may be imagined. 
In origin it was, Father O'Connor relates, a Texan or Mexican 
general utility implement. It was with this knife that lie won 
my daughter's heart many years later when she, aged three, had 
not seen him for some time and had grown shy of him. A little 

254 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

scared of his enormousness she stood far off. He did not look 
in her direction but began to open and shut the vast blade. 
Next she was on his knee. A little later we heard her remark, 
"Uncle Gilbert, you make jokes just like my Daddy/' And from 
him came, "I do my best" 

The prototype of Father Brown tells of the easy job in detec 
tion when Gilbert had been reading a book: 

He had just been reading a shilling pamphlet by Dr. Horton on 
the Roman Menace or some such fearful wild fowl. I knew he had 
read it, because no one else could when he had done. Most of his 
books, as and when read, had gone through every indignity a book 
may suffer and live. He turned it inside out, dog-eared it, pencilled 
it, sat on it, took it to bed and rolled on it, and got up again and 
spilled tea on it if he were sufficiently interested. So Dr. Horton's 
pamphlet had a refuted look when I saw it." 

Father O'Connor was not the only friend who was added to 
the Beaconsfield group with some frequency. It was easy enough 
to run down from London or over from Welwyn (home of 
G.B.S.) or from Oxford or Cambridge. It was most conveniently 
central. Gilbert's brethren of the pen. were especially apt to 
appear at all seasons and always found friendly welcome. For 
he continued to call himself neither poet nor philosopher but 
journalist. Father O'Connor had tried to persuade him, as he 
neatly puts it, to "begin to print on handmade paper with gilt 
edges/' But Frances begged him to drop the idea: "You will not 
chan^ Gilbert, you will only fidget him. He is bent on being a 
jolly journalist, to paint the town red, and he does not need 
style to do that. All he wants is buckets and buckets of red 

Journalists coming down from London describe the "jolly" 
welcome, beer poured, the sword-stick flourished, conversation 
flowing as freely as the beer. It meant a pleasant afternoon and 
it meant good copy. They visited him in the country, they 
observed him in town. One interviewer returned with a photo 

From Battersea to Beaconsfield 255 

which showed Chesterton "in a somewhat neglige condition," 
the result as he admitted of reading W. W. Jacobs "rolling about 
on the floor waving his legs in the air." 

He was seen working a swan boat at the White City: "he 
collapsed it and the placid lake became a raging sea/' He was 
seen thinking and even reading under the strangest weather con 
ditions: one man saw him under a gas lamp in the street in 
pouring rain with an open book in his hand. Reading in Fleet 
Street one day Gilbert discovered suddenly that the Lord 
Mayor's Show was passing. He began to reflect on the Show so 
deeply that he forgot to look at it. 

Overroads I remember as a little triangular house, much too 
small for the sort of fun the Chestertons enjoyed. Frances bought 
a field opposite to it and there built a studio. The night the 
studio was opened Father O'Connor remembers a large party 
at which charades were acted. He himself as Canon Cross- 
Keys gave away the word so that "Belfry" was loudly shouted by 
the opposition group. The rival company acting Torture got 
away with it successfully, especially, complains our Yorkshire 
priest "as 'ure* was pronounced *y aw> i 11 ^ ^^ southern 


On that night, returning to the house, Father O'Connor 
offered his arm to Gilbert who "refused it with a finality foreign 
to our friendship." Father O'Connor went on ahead and Gilbert 
following in the dark stumbled over a flowerpot and broke tis 
arm. Perhaps because his size made him self-consciously aware 
of awkwardness Gilbert hated being helped. Father Ignatius 
Rice, another close friend, says the only time he ever saw Gil 
bert annoyed was when he offered him an arm going upstairs. 

Gilbert and Frances would both visit Father O'Connor in tiis 
Yorkshire Parish of Heckmondwike. One year they took rooms 
at Ilkley and he remembers Gilbert adorning with huge frescoes 
the walls of the attic and Frances sitting in the window singing, 

256 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

"O swallow, swallow flying south" while Gilbert "did a blazon 
of some fantastic coat of arms." 

The closeness of the intimacy is seen in a letter quoted by 
Father O'Connor* in which Gilbert explained why Frances 
and he were unable to come to Heckmondwibe for a promised 

(July 3rd, 1909) 

I would not write this to anyone else, but you combine so un 
usually In your own single personality the characters of (O priest, 
(2) human being, (3) man of the world, (4) man of the other 
world, (5) man of science, (6) old friend, (7) new friend, not to 
mention Irishman and picture dealer, that I don't mind suggesting 
the truth to you. Frances has just come out of what looked bad 
enough to be an illness, and is just going to plunge into one of her 
recurrent problems of pain and depression. The two may be just a 
bit too much for her and I want to be with her every night for a 
few days there's an Irish Bull for you! 

One of the mysteries of Marriage (which must be a Sacrament 
and an extraordinary one too) is that a man evidently useless like 
me can yet become at certain instants indispensable. And the further 
oddity (which I invite you to explain on mystical grounds) is that he 
never feels so small as when he knows that he is necessary. 

But sometimes she would send him off whether she was well 
or ill, and on Father O'Connor would rest the heavy responsibil 
ity of getting him on to his next destination or safe back home. 
He tells of one such experience. 

He was most dutiful and obedient to orders, but they had to be 
written ones and backed by the spoken word. He brought his dress- 
suit, oh! with what loving care, to Bradford on Sunday for Sheffield 
for Monday, but a careful host found it under the bed in Bradford 
just as his train left for Sheffield. Sent at once it was to Beacons- 
fidd, where It landed at 5 P.M. on Thursday, just allowing him ten 
minutes to change and entrain for London. 

Scene at Beaconsfield: 

"What on earth have you done with your dress-suit, Gilbert?" 

* FatJier Brown on Chesterton, p- 123. 

From Battersea to Beacons-field 257 

"I must have left it behind, darling, but I brought back the ties, 
didn't I?" * 

Another time he came back without his pyjamas. They had 
been lost early in the journey. "Why didn't you buy some more?" 
his wife asked. "I didn't know pyjamas were things you could 
buy," he said, surprised. Probably if one were Gilbert one 
couldn't! Father O'Connor arriving at Overroads without bag 
gage found that Gilbert's pyjamas went around him exactly 

Lecturing engagements had of course not come to an end 
with the move although they had (mercifully) somewhat less 
ened. What increased with the distance from London was the 
problem never fully solved of getting Gilbert to the right place 
at the right time and in clothes not too wildly wrong. When he 
lectured in Lancashire they stayed at Crosby with Francis Blun- 
dell (my brother-in-law), and my sister remembers Frances as 
incessantly looking through her bag for letters and sending 
telegrams to confirm engagements that had come unstuck or to 
refuse others that were in debate. The celebrated and now 
almost legendary telegram from Gilbert to Frances told as from 
a hundred different cities was really sent: "Am in Market Har- 
borough. Where ought I to be?" 

Desperate, she wired, "Home," because, as she told me later, 
it was easier to get him home and start him off again. That day's 
engagement was lost past recall, 

Charles Rowley of the Ancoats Brotherhood received a wire, 
reply paid, from Snow Hill Station, Birmingham: "Am I com 
ing to you tonight or what?" Reply: "Not this Tuesday but 
next Wednesday." 

So home he came again to Overroads. 

The Chestertons made a host of friends in Beaconsfield but 
the children always held pride of place. The doctor's little boy, 
running along the top of the wall, looked down at Gilbert and 

* Ibid, p. 43* 

258 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

remarked to his delight, "I think you're an ogre/' But when the 
nurse was heard threatening punishment if he did not get down 
"that minute/' the child was told by the ogre, "This wall is 
meant for little boys to run along/' One child, asked after a 
party if Mr. Chesterton had been very clever, said, "You should 
see him catch buns in his mouf /' 

What was unusual both with Gilbert and Frances was the 
fact that they never allowed their disappointment in the matter 
of children to make them sour or jealous of others who had the 
joy that they had not. All through their lives they played with 
other people's children: they chose on a train a compartment 
full of children: they planned amusements, they gave presents 
to the children of their friends. Over my son's bed hangs a silver 
crucifix chosen with loving care by Frances after Gilbert had 
stood godfather to him. And he was one of very many. 

Gilbert was however a complete realist as to the ways and 
manners of the species he so loved. 

Playing with children [he wrote at this time] is a glorious thing: 
but the journalist in question has never understood why it was con 
sidered a soothing or idyllic one. It reminds him, not of watering 
little budding flowers, but of wrestling for hours with gigantic angels 
and devils. Moral problems of the most monstrous complexity be 
siege him incessantly. He has to decide before the awful eyes of 
innocence, whether, when a sister has knocked down a brother's 
bricks, in revenge for the brother having taken two sweets out of his 
turn, it is endurable that the brother should retaliate by scribbling 
on the sister's picture-book, and whether such conduct does not 
justify the sister in blowing out the brother's unlawfully lit match. 

Just as he is solving this problem upon principles of the highest 
morality, it occurs to him suddenly that he has not written his Satur 
day article; and that there is only about an hour to do it in. He 
wildly calls to somebody (probably the gardener) to telephone to 
somewhere for a messenger; he barricades himself in another room 
and tears his hair, wondering what on earth he shall write about. 
A dramming of fists on the door outside and a cheerful bellowing 
encourage and clarify his thoughts. . . . He sits down desperately; 

From Battersea to Beaconsfield 259 

the messenger rings at the bell; the children drum on the door; the 
servants run up from time to time to say the messenger is getting 
bored; and the pencil staggers along, making the world a present of 
fifteen hundred unimportant words, and making Shakespeare a 
present of a portion of Gray's Elegy, putting "fantastic roots wreathed 
high" instead of "antique roots peep out/' * Then the journalist sends 
off his copy and turns his attention to the enigma of whether a 
brother should commandeer a sister's necklace because the sister 
pinched him at Littlehampton. 

In the Notebook he had written: 


On the sands I romped with children 

Do you blame me that I did not improve myself 

By bottling anemones? 

But I say that these children will be men and women 

And I say that the anemones will not be men and women 

(Not just yet, at least, let us say). 
And I say that the greatest men of the world might 

romp with children 
And that I should like to see Shakespeare romping 

with children 

And Browning and Darwin romping with children 
And Mr. Gladstone romping with children 
And Professor Huxley romping with children 
And all the Bishops romping with children; 
And I say that if a man had climbed to the stars 
And found the secrets of the angels, 
The best thing and the most useful thing he could do 
Would be to come back and romp with children. 


An almost elvish little girl with loose brown hair, doing 
needlework I have spoken to her once or twice. 

I think I must get another book of the same size as this 
to make notes about her. 

* Chesterton had actually made this slip, and the present quotation is from 
the article he wrote in apology. 

260 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

From the Christmas party at Overroads all adults were ex- 
cluded-no nurses, no parents. The children would hang on 
Gilbert's neck in an ecstasy of affection and he and Frances 
schemed out endless games for them. Gilbert had started a toy 
theatre before he left London, cutting out and painting figures 
and scenery, and devising plots for plays. Two of the favourites 
were "St. George and the Dragon" and "The Seven Champions 
of Christendom." 

The atmosphere of Overroads is perhaps best conveyed 
through Gilberts theories concerning his toy theatre and the 
other theatricals such as Charades sometimes played there. 
When it came to the toy theatre set up to amuse the children, 
he frankly felt that he was himself child No. i and got the 
most amusement out of it. He felt too that the whole thing was 
good enough to be worth analysing in its rules and its effects. 
And so he drew up a paper of rules and suggestions for its 


I will not say positively that a toy-theatre is the best of theatres; 
though I have had more fun out of it than out of any other. But I 
will say positively that the toy-theatre is the best of all toys. It some 
times fails; but generally because people are mistaken in the matter 
of what it is meant to do, and what it can or cannot be expected to 
do; as if people should use a toy balloon as a football or a skipping 
rope as a hammock. . . . 

Now the first rule may seem rather contradictory; but it is quite 
true and really quite simple. In a small theatre, because it is a small 
theatre, you cannot deal with small things. Because it is a small 
theatre it must only deal with large things. You can introduce a 
dragon; but you cannot really introduce an earwig; it is too small for 
a small theatre. And this is true not only of small creatures, but of 
small actions, small gestures and small details of any kind. ... All 
your effects must be made to depend on things like scenery and back 
ground. The sky and the clouds and the castles and the mountains 
and so on must be the exciting things; along with other things that 
move all of a piece, such as regiments and processions; great and 

From Eattersea to Eeaconsfield 261 

glorious things can be done with processions. . . . In a real comedy 
the whole excitement may consist in the nervous curate dropping his 
tea-cup; though I do not recommend this incident for the drama of 
the drawing-room. But if he were nervous, let us say, about a 
thunder-storm, the toy-theatre could hardly represent the nervous 
ness but it might manage the thunder-storm. It might be quite sen 
sational and yet entirely simple; for it would largely consist of dark 
ening the stage and making horrible noises behind the scenes. . . . 
The second and smaller rule, that really follows from this, is that 
everything dramatic should depend not on a character's action, but 
simply on his appearance. Shakespeare said of actors that they have 
their exits and their entrances; but these actors ought really to have 
nothing else except exits and entrances. The trick is to so arrange 
the tale that the mere appearance of a person tells the important 
truth about him. Thus, supposing the drama to be about SL George 
let us say, the mere abrupt appearance of the dragon's head (if of a 
proper ferocity) will be enough to explain that he intends to eat 
people; and it will not be necessary for the dragon to explain at 
length, with animated gestures and playful conversation, that his 
nature is carnivorous and that he has not merely dropped in to tea. 

There is some further discussion on colour effects ("I like 
very gay and glaring colours, and I like to give them a good 
chance to glare"). The paper concludes on a more serious 

It is an old story, and for some a sad one, that in a sense these 
childish toys are more to us than they can ever be to children. We 
never know how much of our after imaginations began with such a 
peep-show into paradise. I sometimes think that houses are interest 
ing because they are so like doll houses and I am sure the best thing 
that can be said for many large theatres is that they may remind us 
of little theatres. . . . 

I do not look back, I look forward to this kind of puppet play; 
I look forward to the day when I shall have time to play with it 
Some day when I am too lazy to write anything, or even to read 
anything, I shall retire into this box of marvels; and I shall be found 
still striving hopefully to get inside a toy-theatie* 

262 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Adults as well as children enjoyed this toy and it was often 
described by interviewers. Like the sword-stick, the great cloak 
and flapping hat, it was felt by some to be Gilbert's way of 
attracting attention. But it was just one of Gilberts ways of 
amusing himself. A small nephew of Frances was living with 
them at the time and it was funny to watch him fencing with 
his huge uncle who was obviously enjoying himself rather the 
more of the two. On my first visit to Overroads, I noticed how 
as we talked my host's pencil never ceased. One evening I 
collected and kept an imposing red Indian and a caricature 
of Chesterton himself in a wheelbarrow being carried off to the 
bonfire. I came in too for one of the grown-up parties in which 
guessing games were a feature. Lines from the poets were illus 
trated and we had to guess them. At another party, Dr. Pocock 
told me, G.K. did the Inns of Beaconsfield, of which the most 
successful drawing was that of a sadly dilapidated dragon being 
turned away from the inn door: "Dragon discovers with disgust 
that he cannot put up at the George." 

Sometimes these drawings were the prize of whoever guessed 
the line of verse they illustrated, sometimes they were sold for 
a local charity. The Babies' Convalescent Home was a favourite 
object and one admirable picture (reproduced in The Coloured 
Lands^) shows the "Despair of King Herod at discovering chil 
dren convalescing from the Massacre/' 

The two closest friendships of early Beaconsfield life were 
with the rector, Mr. Comerline and his wife, who are now dead, 
and Dr. and Mrs. Pocock. Dr. Pocock was the Chestertons' doc 
tor as well as their friend, and he tells me that his great diffi- 
cuky in treating Gilbert lay in his detachment from his own 
physical circumstances. If there was anything wrong with him 
he usually didn't notice it. "He was the most uncomplaining 
person. You had to hunt him all over" to find out if anything 
was wrong, 

This detachment from circumstances still extended to his 

From Battersea to Beacons-field 263 

appearance and Frances one day begged Dr. Pocock to take him 
to a good tailor. It was a huge success: he had never looked so 
well as he did now for a few weeks. And then the tailor said 
to Dr. Pocock, "Mr. Chesterton has broken my heart. It took 
twice the material and twice the time to make for him, but I 
was proud of it." His tailor like his doctor was apt to become 
a friend. Mrs. Pocock recalls how he would go to a dinner of 
the tradesmen of Beaconsfield and come back intensely inter 
ested and wanting to tell her all about it. 

"You always went away/' Dr. Pocock said, "chuckling over 
something/' and he summed up the years of their friendship, 
saying, "You never saw him without getting delight from his 
presence/ 1 

Sometimes he would grow abstracted in the train of his own 
thought, and Father Ignatius Rice remembers an occasion when 
he was one of a group discussing really bad lines of poetry. 
Gilbert broke into something Frances was saying with the 
words, "That irritating person Milton" then, realising he had 
interrupted her, he broke off and apologised profusely. When 
she had finished he went on 'That irritating person Milton I 
can't find a single bad line in him." 

Frances one day came in rather suddenly when Dr. Pocock 
was there, and Gilbert exclaimed, "Oh you ve broken it." She 
looked round thinking she must have knocked something over. 
"No/* he said, "it was an idea." "It will come back," said Frances. 
"No," he said, "it got broken." More usually he was indifferent 
to interruptions: sometimes he welcomed them as grist for his 
mind's mill. Daily life went on around him and often in his 
articles one can find traces of Frances's daily activities as well 
as his own. 

Attending him for his broken arm, Dr. Pocock told him at a 
certain stage to write something anything to see if he cotiM 
use a pen again. After an instant's thought, Gilbert headed feis 
paper with the name of a prominent Jew and wrote: 

264 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

I am fond of Jews 
Jews are fond of money 
Never mind of whose 
I am fond of Jews 
Oh, but when they lose 
Damn it all, it's funny. 

The name at the head (which wild horses would not drag from 
me) is the key to this impromptu. It was really true that Gil 
bert was fond of very many Jews. In his original group of 
J.D.C. friends, four Jews had been included and with three of 
these his friendship continued through life. Lawrence Solomon 
and his wife were among the Beaconsfield neighbours and he 
saw them often. There was another kind of Jew he very heartily 
disliked but he was at great pains to draw this distinction him 

Speaking at the Jewish West End Literary Society in 1911 
he put the question of what the real Jewish problem was. The 
Jews, he said, were a race, born civilised. You never met a Jew 
ish clod or yokel. They represented one of the highest of civilised 
types. But while all other races had local attachments, the Jews 
were universal and scattered. They could not be expected to 
have patriotism for the countries in which they made their 
homes: their patriotism could be only for their race. In prin 
ciple, he believed in the solution of Zionism. And then the 
reporter in large letters made a headline: "Mr. Chesterton said 
that speaking generally, as with most other communities, THE 


Many years later in Palestine he was to be driven around the 
country, as he has described in The New Jerusalem, by one of 
these less wealthy Jews who had sacrificed his career in England 
to his national idealism. And later yet, after G.K/s death, Rabbi 
Wise, a leader of American Jewry, paid him tribute (in a letter 
to Cyril Clements dated September 8, 1937): 

From Eattersea to Beaconsfield 265 

Indeed I was a warm admirer of Gilbert Chesterton, Apart from 
his delightful art and his genius in many directions, he was, as you 
know, a great religionist. He as Catholic, I as Jew, could not have 
seen eye to eye with each other, and he might have added "particu 
larly seeing that you are cross-eyed"; but I deeply respected him. 
When Hitlerism came, he was one of the first to speak out with all 
the directness and frankness of a great and unabashed spirit. Bless 
ing to his memory! 

A Circle of Friends 

IN THE LAST chapter, this chapter and to a considerable extent 
those that follow, down to the break made by Gilbert's 
illness and the war of 1914, it is unavoidable that the same 
years should be retraced to cover a variety of aspects. For their 
home was for both Gilbert and Frances the centre of a widen 
ing circle. Although I visited Overroads, it seems to me, looking 
back, I saw them just then much more frequently in London 
and elsewhere. Several times they stayed at Lotus, our Surrey 
home. The first time it was a weekend of blazing summer 
weather. Lady Blennerhassett was thereformerly Countess Ley- 
den and a favourite disciple of Dollinger. I remember she de 
lighted Gilbert by her comment on Modernism. "I must," she 
said, "have the same religion as my washerwoman, and Father 
TyrrelTs is not the religion for my washerwoman." We sat on 
the terrace in the sunshine and Lady Blennerhassett asked sud 
denly whether the soles of our boots were, like hers, without 
hole or blemish. We all looked very odd as we stuck our feet 
out and tried to see the soles. Gilbert, offered a wicker chair, 
preferred the grass because, he said, there was grave danger 
he might unduly "modify" the chair. 

After a meeting of the Westminster Dining Society (the pre 
decessor of the Wiseman), he wrote my mother an unnecessary 


I have wanted for some days past to write to you, but could not 
make up my mind whether I was making my position worse or 


A Circle of Friends 267 

better. But I do want to apologise to you for the way in which I 
threw out your delightful Catholic Dining Society affair the other 
day. I behaved badly, dined badly, debated badly and left badly; 
yet the explanation is really simple. I was horribly worried, and I do 
not worry well; when I am worried I am like a baby. My wife was 
that night just ill enough to make a man nervous, a stupid man, 
and I had sworn, to her that I would fulfill some affairs that night 
on which she was keen. As she is better now and only wants rest, 
I feel normal and realise what a rotter I must have looked that night. 
As Belloc wrote in a beautiful epitaph 

"He frequently would flush with fear when other 

people paled, 
He Tried to Do his Duty . . . but how damnably 

he failed." 

This is the epitaph of yours sincerely, 


My father and mother were hardly less excited than I at the 
discovery of the greatest man of the age, for so we all felt him 
to be. Gilbert later described my father as "strongly co-operative" 
with another's mind, and this was perhaps his own chief char 
acteristic in conversation. The two men did not agree on poli 
tics,* but on religion their agreement was deep and constantly 
grew deeper as they co-operated in exploring it Our headquar 
ters were in Surrey but when we came up to London every 
spring my parents wanted to bring the Chestertons into touch 
with all their friends. They tended to think of their luncheon 
table as Chesterton "supported" by those most worthy of the 
honour. One of the first was of course George Wyndham, 
already a friend and admirer of Gilbert's. At this luncheon they 
discussed the modern press, i8tK Century lampoons, the in 
gredients of a good English style, the lawfulness of Revolution, 
the causes of Napoleon, Scripture criticism, Joan of Arc, public 
executions, how to bring about reforms. It was absurd, G.K. 
said, to think that gaining half a reform led to the other half* 
Supposing it was agreed that every man ought to have a eow t 

268 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

but you say, 'We can't manage that just yet: give him half a 
cow/' He doesn't care for it and he leaves it about, and he 
never asks for the other half. 

Talking of the Eastern and Western races Gilbert said it was 
curious that while the Easterns were so logical and clear in their 
religion, they were so unpractical in every-day life; the religion 
of the Westerns is mystical and full of paradoxes. Yet they are 
far more practical. "The Eastern says fate governs every 
thing and he sits and looks pretty; we believe in Free-will 
and Predestination and we invent Babbage's Calculating 

As the group grew into one another's thought the talk intensi 
fied and we got from considering East and West to considering 
our own countrymen. What makes a man essentially English? 
Dickens had it. Johnson had it, 'You couldn't/' said G.K., 
"imagine a Scotch Johnson, or an Irish Johnson, or a French or 
German Johnson/' 

George Wyndham told us, as we got on to the topic of patriot 
ism, that he had a fear he hardly liked to utter. As we urged him 
he said he feared a big war might come and we might be de 
feated. Gilbert agreed that he too had felt that fear. "But/' he said, 
"if you were to say that in the House or I to write it in a paper 
we should be denounced as unpatriotic." 

Small wonder the talk had time to range, for these scrappy 
notes are all that remain of a meeting beginning about one 
o'clock and lasting until five. At that hour two little old sisters, 
the Miss Blounts, known in our family as "the little B's," hap 
pened to call on my mother. I shall never forget their faces as 
they looked at the huge man in the armchair, and the other 
guests all absorbed and animated, and realised that they were 
interrupting a luncheon party. A swift glance at the little old 
ladies, another at the clock, and the party broke up, to remain 
my most cherished memory for months: until my next visit to 
their home, when Gilbert and I arrived at the use of each other's 

A Circle of Friends 269 

Christian names, an agreement that lie insisted on calling The 
Pact of Beaconsfield. 

How deep he saw when in his "Defence of Hermits" he ana 
lysed a chief joy of human intercourse: 

. . . The best things that happen to us are those we get out of 
what has already happened. If men were honest with themselves, 
they would agree that actual social engagements, even with those 
they love, often seem strangely brief, breathless, thwarted or incon 
clusive. Mere society is a way of turning friends into acquaintances. 
The real profit is not in meeting our friends, but in having met 
them. Now when people merely plunge from crush to crush, and 
from crowd to crowd, they never discover the positive joy of life. 
They are like men always hungry, because their food never digests; 
also, like those men, they are cross.* 

There was time in the country for the food of social inter 
course to digest. I notice too that in the list of Gilbert's friends 
quiet-voiced men stood high: Max Beerbohm, Jack Phillimore, 
Monsignor O'Connor, Monsignor Knox, his own father, Maurice 
Baring: all these represent a certain spaciousness and leisureli- 
ness which was what he asked of friendship. Even if they were 
in a hurry, they never seemed so. 

Jack Phillimore both he and we saw on and off at this time 
but had often to enjoy in anticipation or in retrospect. Professor, 
at one time of Greek at another of Latin, at Glasgow University, 
he was the kind of man Gilbert specially appreciated: he wrote 
of Phillimore after his death something curiously like what he 
wrote of his own father "Tie was a supreme example of unad- 
vertised greatness, and the thing which is larger inside than 
outside.*' At Oxford Phillimore had been known as "one of 
Belloc's lambs/' He was very much one of the group who were 
to run the Eye-Witness and New Witness but though he 
always adored Belloc, no one who knew him in the fulness of 
his powers could think of him as anyone's lamb. He was a quiet, 

* The Well and the SMZows, pp. 104-5. 

270 Gilbert Keitk Chesterton 

humorous, deeply intelligent man: a scholar of European repute, 
whose knowledge of Mediaeval Latin verse equalled his Classi 
cal scholarship. 

Gilbert's keen observation of his friends is never shown better 
than in what he wrote of Phillimore: 

Like a needle pricking a drum, his quietude seemed to kill all the 
noise of our loud plutocracy and publicity. In all this he was 
supremely the scholar, with not a little of the satirist. 

And yet there was never any man alive who was so unlike a don. 
His religion purged him of intellectual pride, and certainly of that 
intellectual vanity which so often makes a sort of seething fuss 
underneath the acid sociability of academic centres. He had none 
of the tired omniscience which comes of intellectual breeding in 
and in. He seemed to be not so much a professor as a practiser of 
learning. He practised it quietly but heartily and humorously, ex- 
acdy as if it had been any other business. If he had been a sailor, 
like his father the Admiral, he would have minded his own business 
with exactly the same smile and imperceptible gesture. Indeed, he 
looked much more like a sailor than a professor; his dark square face 
and clear eyes and compact figure were of a type often seen among 
sailors; and in whatever academic enclave he stood, he always 
seemed to have walked in from outside, bringing with him some of 
the winds of the world and some light from the ends of the earth/ 

To return to my own notes. It is horribly characteristic that 
I wrote them in an undated notebook, but I think that luncheon 
which lasted so long must have been in 1911. The same year 
my father persuaded both the Synthetic Society to elect Ches 
terton and Chesterton to attend the Synthetic. Of his first meet 
ing my father wrote to George Wyndham: 

Had you been at the Synthetic last night you would have wit 
nessed a memorable scene. 

Place: Westminster Palace Hotel. Time: 9.40. 

A. J. B. [Arthur Balfour, leader of the Conservative Party] is 
speaking persuasively and in carefully modulated tones to an atten- 

*GJK/s Weefcly, Nov. 27, 1926. 

A Circle of Friends 271 

tive audience. Suddenly a crash as though the door were blown open. 
A. J. B. brought to a halt. The whole company look round and in 
rushes a figure exactly like the pictures of Mr. Wind when he blows 
open the door and forces an entrance in the German child's story 
"Mr. Wind and Madame Rain" a figure enormous and distended, a 
kind of walking mountain but with large rounded corners. It was 
G. K. C. who, enveloped in a huge Inverness cape of light colour, 
thus made his debut at the Synthetic. He rushed (not walked) to a 
chair, and was dragged chair and all by Waggett and me as near as 
might be to the table, where with a fresh crash he deposited his 
stick, and then his hat. And there he sat, eager and attentive, for 
getting all about his stick and hat and coat, filling up the whole 
space at the bottom of the table, drawing caricatures of the com 
pany on a sheet of foolscap, a memorable figure, very welcome to 
me, but arousing the fury of the conventional and the "dreary and 
well-informed" well represented by Bailey Saunders who has been 
at me here half the morning trying to convince me that he will ruin 
the society and ought never to have been elected. 

Some of the reactions of this new recruit have been touched 
on in his Autobiography: 

There I met old Haldane, yawning with all his Hegelian abysses, 
who appeared to me as I must have appeared to a neighbour in a 
local debating dub when he dismissed metaphysical depths and 
pointed at me saying: "There is that Leviathan whom Thou hast 
made to take his sport therein.". . . 

There also I met Balfour, obviously preferring any philosophers 
with any philosophies to his loyal followers of the Tory Party. Per 
haps religion is not the opium of the people, but philosophy is the 
opium of the politicians. 

My father belonged to another group besides the Synthetic 
Society for which it seemed to him that Gilbert was even more 
ideally fitted. The Club was founded by Dr. Johnson, the home 
of the best talk in the land, where Garrick and Gokkmith were 
at times shouted down by the great Lexicographer a sign, said 
Chesterton, of his modesty and his essential democracy: Jolmscm 
was too democratic to reign as king of his company: he p$e- 


272, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

ferred to contend with them as an equal. The old formula still 
in use had informed my father "you have had the honour to 
be elected/' hut Wilfrid Ward felt that the election of the 
modern Dr. Johnson would be an honour to The Club. To his 
intense disgust he found that only George Wyndham could be 
relied upon for whole-hearted support. What may be called the 
"social" element in The Club had become too strong to wel 
come a man who boasted in all directions of belonging to the 
Middle Classes and whose friends merely urged the claim that 
he was one of the few today who could talk as well as Johnson. 

Gilbert met many politicians in other ways but only with one 
of them did he feel a really close harmony. Of George Wynd- 
ham's opinions he said in the Autobiography that they were "of 
the same general colour as my own," and he went on to stress 
the word "colour" as significant of the whole man. To depict 
him in political cartoons as "St. George" had not in it the sort 
of absurdity of the pictures of the more frigid and philosophic 
Balfour as "Prince Arthur." George really did suggest the ages 
of chivalry, "He had huge sympathy with gypsies and tramps." 
There was about him "an inward generosity that gave a gusto 
or relish to all he did." 

The Chestertons* appreciation of George Wyndham was deep 
ened for them both by an affection, indeed almost a reverence, 
for "the deep mysticism of his wife; a woman not to be for 
gotten by anyone who ever knew her, and still less to be merely 
praised by anyone who adequately appreciated her." For a 
period at any rate Gilbert and Frances were much in contact 
with the extreme Anglo-Catholic group in the Church of Eng- 
l#nd. In the best of that group and many of them are very 
very good there is a sense of taking part in a crusade to re 
store Catholicism to the whole country. Canon Scott Holland 
led a campaign for social justice and many of the same group 
mixed this with devotion to Our Lady, belief in the Real 
Presence, and a profound love of the Catholic past of England. 

A Circle of Friends 273 

George Wyndham's wife, Lady Grosvenor, was one of this 
group and also her friend Father Philip Waggett of the Cowley 
Fathers. Father Waggett, a member of the Synthetic Society 
and intimate with my parents, became also intimate with the 

Ralph Adams Cram described his own meeting with Chester 
ton, arranged by Father Waggett. 

Father Waggett asked my wife and myself once when we were 
staying in London, whom we would like best to meet "anyone from 
the King downward/' We chose Chesterton who was a very par 
ticular friend of Father Waggett. At that time we put on a dinner 
at the Buckingham Palace Hotel (in those days the haunt of all the 
County families) and in defiance of fate, had this dinner in the 
public dining room. We had as guests Father Waggett, G. K. C. 
and Mrs. Chesterton. The entrance into the dining room of the 
short processional created something of a sensation amongst the 
aforesaid County families there assembled. Father Waggett, thin, 
cropheaded monk in cassock and rope; G, K. C., vast and practically 
globular; little Mrs. Chesterton, very South Kensington in moss 
green velvet; my wife and myself. 

The dinner was a riot. I have the clearest recollection of G. IL C. 
seated ponderously at the table, drinking champagne by magnums, 
continually feeding his face with food which, as he was constantly 
employed in the most dazzling and epigrammatic conversation, was 
apt to fall from his fork and rebound from his corporosity, until the 
fragments disappeared under the table. 

He and Father Waggett egged each other on to the most pre 
posterous amusements. Each would write a triolet for the other to 
illustrate. They were both as clever with the pencil as with the pen, 
and they covered the backs of menus with most astonishing literary 
and artistic productions. I particularly remember G. K. C. suddenly 
looking out of the dinir,g room window towards Buckingham Palace 
and announcing that he was now prepared "to write a disloyal tri- 
oletP This was during the reign of King Edward VII, and the result 
was convincing. I have somewhere the whole collection of these 
literary productions with their illustrations, but where they are I 
do not know.* 

* Chesterton by Cyril Clemens, pp. 36-37- 

274 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

On a second visit of the Chestertons to Lotus, George Wynd- 
ham was there. He had told us of his habit of "shouting the 
Ballad of the White Horse to submissive listeners" and we had 
hoped for the same treat. But Gilbert got the book and kicked 
it under his chair defying us to recover it. We had at that time 
a vast German cook of a girth almost equal to his own and 
possessed of unbounded curiosity in the matter of our guests. 
Gilbert declared that as he sat peacefully in the drawing room 
she approached him holding out a paper which he supposed to 
be a laundry list, and then started back exclaiming that she had 
thought him to be Mrs. Ward 

It was on this visit that he remarked to a lady who happened 
to be the granddaughter of a Duke: "You and I who belong to 
the jolly old upper Middle Classes." Had he been told about 
her ancestry he would, I imagine, have felt that he had paid 
her an implied compliment by not being aware of it. For into 
the world of the aristocracy he and Frances had been received 
in London, and he viewed it with the same calm humour and 
potential friendliness as he had for all the rest of mankind. 
When Frances in her Diary pitied the Duchess of Sutherland 
and felt that a single day of such a life as the Duchess lived 
would drive her crazy, she was expressing Gilbert's taste as well 
as her own for a certain simplicity of life. Social position neither 
excited nor irritated him. He liked or disliked an aristocrat 
exactly as he liked or disliked a postman. Gilbert and Cecil 
Chesterton really were, as Conrad Noel said, personally uncon 
cerned about class. They had, however, a principle against the 
position of the English aristocracy which will be better under 
stood in the light of their general social and historical outlook. 
What might be called the social side of it was often expressed 
by G.K. when lecturing on Dickens. Thus, speaking at Man 
chester for the Dickens centenary, he was reported as say 

A Circle of Friends 275 

The objection to aristocracy was quite simple. It was not that 
aristocrats were all blackguards. It was that in an aristocratic state, 
people sat in a huge darkened theatre and only the stage was lighted. 
They saw five or six people walking about and they said, "That man 
looks very heroic striding about with a sword.'' Plenty of people out 
side in the street looked more heroic striding about with an um 
brella; but they did not see these things, all the lights being turned 
out. That was the really philosophic objection to an aristocratic 
society. It was not that the lord was a fool. He was about as clever 
as one's own brother or cousin. It was because one's attention was 
confined to a few people that one judged them as one judged actors 
on the stage, forgetting everybody else. 

Chesterton thought everybody should be remembered whether 
suburban, proletarian, aristocrat or pauper. Shortly after the 
removal to Beaconsfield he was summoned to give evidence 
before a Parliamentary Commission on the question of censor 
ship of the theatre. Keep it, he said, to the surprise of many of 
his friends, but change the manner of its exercise. Let it be no 
longer censorship by an expert but by a jury by twelve ordi 
nary men. These will be the best judges of what really makes 
for morality and sound sense. He had come to give evidence, he 
said, not as a writer but as the representative of the gallery, and 
he was concerned only with "the good and happiness of the 
English people/' 

One bewildered Commissioner was understood to murmur 
that their terms of reference were not quite so wide as that. 

The chapter in the Autobiography called "Friendships and 
Foolery" ends suddenly with a reference to the war hut, like 
the whole book, it leaps wildly about. One point in it is inter 
esting and links up with the introduction to Titterton's Drinking 
Songs that Gilbert later wrote. To shout a chorus is natural to 
mankind and G.K. claims that he had done it long before he 
heard of Community Singing. He sang when out driving, or 
walking over the moors with Father O'Connor; he sang in Fleet 

276 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Street with Titterton and his journalist friends; he sang the 
Red Flag on Trade Union platforms and England, Awake in 
Revolutionary groups. There was, he claims, a legend that in 
Auberon Herbert's rooms not far from Buckingham Palace "we 
sang Drake s Drum with such passionate patriotism that King 
Edward the Seventh sent in a request for the noise to stop." 

Yet it was all but impossible to teach Gilbert a tune, and 
Bernard Shaw felt this (as we have seen) a real drawback to 
his friend's understanding of his own life and career. Music was 
to Shaw what line and color were to Chesterton; but to Ches 
terton singing was just making a noise to show he felt happy. 
Once he wrote a poem called "Music" but only as one more 
flower in the wreath he was always weaving for Frances who 
was> says Monsignor Knox, the heroine of all his novels/ 

Sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, 
He that made me sealed my ears, 
And the pomp of gorgeous noises, 
Waves of triumph, waves of tears, 

Thundered empty round and past me, 
Shattered, lost for evermore, 
Ancient gold of pride and passion, 
Wrecked like treasure on a shore. 

But I saw her cheek and forehead 
Change, as at a spoken word, 
And I saw her head uplifted 
Like a lily to the Lord. 

Nought is lost, but all transmuted, 
Ears are sealed, yet eyes have seen; 
Saw her smiles (O soul be worthy!), 
Saw her tears (O heart be clean!)f 

Against the background of all these activities the books went 
on pouring out as fast from Overroads as they had from Over- 

Listener, June 19, 1941. t Collected Poems, p. 129. 

A Circle of Friends 277 

strand. A town full of friends forty minutes' journey from Lon 
don was not exactly the desert into which admirers had advised 
Gilbert to flee, tut he would never have been happy in a desert: 
he needed human company. He also needed to produce. "Artistic 
paternity/' he once said, "is as wholesome as physical paternity/' 
And certainly he never ceased to bring forth the children of his 
mind. Within two years of the move seven books were pub 

The Ball and the Cross, February 1910, 

What's Wrong with the World, June 1910, 

Alarms and Discursions, November 1910, 

Blake, November 1910, 

Criticisms and Appreciations of Dickens, January 1911, 

Innocence of Father Brown, August 1911, 

Ballad of the White Horse, August 191 1. 

Of these books, Alarms and Discursions and the Dickens 
criticisms are collections and arrangements of already published 
essays. Meanwhile other essays were being written to become in 
turn other books at a later date. 

The Blake is a brilliant short study of art and mysticism. 
After reading it you feel you understand Blake in quite a new 
way. And then you wonder is this illumination light on Bkke 
or simply light on Chesterton? It must never be forgotten 
that the writer was himself a "spoilt" artist which means a man 
with almost enough art in him to have been in the ranks of 
men consecrated for life to art's service. 

"Father Brown" had first made his appearance in magazines 
and these detective stories became the most purely popular of 
Gilberts books. It was a new genre: detection in which the mind 
of a man means more than his footprints or cigar ash, even to 
the detective. The one reproduced in most anthologies "The 
Invisible Man" depends for its solution on the fact that cer 
tain people are morally invisible. To the question "Has anyone 
been here" the answer "No" does not include the milkman or 

278 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

the postman: thus the postman is the morally invisible man 
who has committed the crime. A thread of this sort runs through 
all the stories, but they are, like all his romances, full too of 
escape and peril and wild adventure. 

Life on several occasions imitated Gilbert's fancies. Thus the 
Azeff revelations followed his fantastic idea in The Man Who 
Was Thursday of the anarchists who turn out to be detectives 
in disguise. The technique of Father Brown himself was imi 
tated by a man in Detroit who recovered a stolen car by putting 
himself imaginatively in the thief '$ place and driving an exactly 
similar car around likely corners till he came suddenly upon 
his own, left in a lonely road. He wrote to tell Gilbert of this 

From Chicago came an even odder example. "It is extremely 
difficult/' wrote the Tribune, "to determine the proper relation 
ship of the Chiesa-Prudente-Di Cossato duels to Mr. Gilbert K. 
Chesterton's book, The Ball and the Cross' . . . 

The flight in search of a duelling ground; the pursuit by the 
police; the friendly intervention of the anarchist wineshop-keeper, 
Volpi; the offer of his backyard for fighting purposes; the unfriendly 
intervention of the police; the friendly intervention of the reporters; 
the renewed and insistently unfriendly intervention of the police 
commissioner; the disgust of the duellists; the extreme disgust of the 
anarchist; the renewed flight of the fighters, seconds, physicians, re 
porters, and the anarchist over the back fences all these and other 
incidents are essentially Chestertonian. 

The Di Cossato affair was carried off with fully as much 'spirit 
and dash; with fully as many automobiles, seconds, physicians, re 
porters and police, all scampering over the country roads until the 
artistic deputy and the aged veteran of the war of 1859, outdis 
tancing their pursuers, could find opportunity in comparative peace 
to cut the glorious gashes of satisfied honour in each other's faces.* 

Two months after this an interviewer from the Daily News 
visited Beaconsfield and splashed headlines in the paper to the 
* Chicago Tribune, iz March 1910. 

A Circle of Friends 279 

effect that the spirit of Chesterton was inspiring a fight between 
the leaseholders in Edwardes Square and a firm which had 
bought up their garden to erect a super-garage. Barricades were 
erected by day and destroyed in the night: a wild-eyed beadle 
held the fort with a garden roller, and said G.K. "the creatures 
of my Napoleon [of Netting Hill] have entered into the bodies 
of the staid burghers of Kensington/' 

In none of these cases was there any likelihood, as the Chi 
cago Tribune noted, of the actors in life having read the books 
they were spiritedly staging. "Ideas have a life of their own," 
the Daily News interviewer tentatively ventured, but he may 
have been puzzled as G.K. "agreed heartily" in the words, "I 
am no dirty nominalist/' 

Chesterton kept the reviewers busy as well as the interview 
ers and in all his stories they noted one curiosity: "If time and 
spaceor any circumstances interfere with the cutting of his 
Gordian knots, he commands time and space to make themselves 
scarce, and circumstances to be no more heard of." 

About time and space this is true in a unique degree. For him 
time seems to have had no existence, or perhaps rather to have 
been like a telescope elongating and shortening at will As a 
young man, it may be remembered, he gave in the course of one 
letter two quite irreconcilable statements of the length of time 
since events in his school days. He had indeed the same difficulty 
about time as about money he mentions in the Autobiography 
that after his watch was stolen during a pro-Boer demonstration 
he never bothered to possess another. In his stories this oddity 
became more marked. In The Rail and the Cross he relates ad 
ventures performed in leaping on and off an omnibus in such 
fashion that the bus must have covered several miles of ground: 
and then we are suddenly told it had gone the few score yards 
from the bottom of Ludgate Hill to the top. Still stranger are tlie 
records in The Man Who Was Thursday and Manaliwe of die 

280 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

happenings of a single day, while in The Return of Don Quixote 
a new organisation of society is described as though many years 
old and then suddenly announced as having been on foot some 

But to return for one moment to the more serious aspects of 
the work of these years. While What's Wrong With the World 
(discussed in some detail in the next chapter) is the first sketch 
of his social views a kind of blueprint for a sane and human 
sort of world the other books with all their foolery hold a seri 
ous purpose. They should be read as illustrations of the philos 
ophy of Orthodoxy both the book he had written and the thing 
of which he had said "God and humanity made it and it made 

'This row of shapeless and ungainly monsters which I now 
set before the reader/' he says of his essays (in the "Introduc 
tion on Gargoyles" in Alarms and Discursions*), "does not con 
sist of separate idols cut out capriciously in lonely valleys or 
various islands. These monsters are meant for the gargoyles of 
a definite cathedral, I have to carve the gargoyles, because I can 
carve nothing else; I leave to others the angels and the arches 
and the spires. But I am very sure of the style of the architecture 
and of the consecration of the church/ 5 

The story of The Ball and the Cross, already indicated to the 
reader by the American-Italian duel which seemed like a parody 
of it, has the double interest of its bearing on the world of 
Chesterton's day and its glimpses at a stranger world to come. 
A young Highlander, coming to London, sees in an atheist book 
shop an insult to Our Lady. He smashes the window and chal 
lenges the owner to a duel. Turnbull, the atheist, is more than 
ready to fight; but the world, caring nothing for religious opin 
ions, regards anyone ready to fight for them as a madman and 
is mainly concerned with keeping the peace. Pursued by all the 
resources of modern civilisation, the two men spend the rest of 

A Circle of Friends 281 

the book starting to fight, being interrupted and arrested by the 
police, escaping, arguing and fighting again. They end up in 
an asylum with a garden where again they talk endlessly and 
where the power of Lucifer the prince of this world has enclosed 
everyone who has been concerned in their wild flight, so that no 
memory of it may live on the earth. 

The two sides of Chesterton's brain are engaged in the duel 
of minds in this book, and some of his best writing is in it, both 
in the description of the wild rush across sea and land and 
in the discussions between the two men. G.K/s affection for 
the sincere atheist is noteworthy and his hatred is reserved for 
the shuffler and the compromiser. It was grand to have such 
a man as Turnbull to convert "one of those men in whom a 
continuous appetite and industry of the intellect leave the emo 
tions very simple and steady. His heart was in the right place 
but he was quite content to leave it there. His head was his 
hobby/' This might be Chesterton himself in fact, it is Ches 
terton himself and the climax belongs to a later world than 
that of 1911. For pointing to the Ball bereft of the Cross, the 
Highlander calls out: "It staggers, Turnbull. It cannot stand 
by itself; you know it cannot. It has been the sorrow of your 
life. Turnbull, this garden is not a dream, but an apocalyptic 
fulfillment. This garden is the world gone mad." 

About the time this book appeared Gilbert was asked by 
an Anglican Society to lecture at Coventry. He said "What 
shall I lecture on?" They answered "Anything from an elephant 
to an umbrella." "Very well," he said, "I will lecture on an 
umbrella." He treated the umbrella as a symbol of increasing 
artificiality. We wear hair to protect the head, a hat to protect 
the hair, an umbrella to protect the hat Gilbert said once he 
was willing to start anywhere and develop from anything 
the whole of his philosophy. In the Notebook he had writ 

282 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Once I looked down at my bootlaces 

Who gave me my bootlaces? 
The bootmaker? Bah! 
Who gave the bootmaker himself? 
What did I ever do that I should be 
given bootlaces? 

After the lecture on the umbrella two priests saw him at the 
railway bookstall and asked him if the rumour was true that 
he was thinking of joining the Church. He answered, "It's a 
matter that is giving me a great deal of agony of mind, and I'd 
be very grateful if you would pray for me/* 

The following year he broached the subject to Father O'Con 
nor when they were alone in a railway carriage. He said he had 
made up his mind, but he wanted to wait for Frances "as she 
had led him into the Anglican Church out of Unitarianism." 
Frances told Father O'Connor when he came to Overroads later, 
at the beginning of Gilbert's illness, that she "could not make 
head or tail" of some of her husband's remarks, especially one 
about being buried at Kensal Green. When Father O'Connor 
told her what had been on Gilbert's mind she was half amused 
at the hints he had been dropping: she recognised his reluc 
tance to move without her, but I think she probably realised 
too that even to himself his conviction seemed in those years at 
times more absolute, at times less. We shall see in a later chap 
ter his own analysis of his very slow progress. Meanwhile in his 
books he was at once deepening and widening his vision of the 

Fragments of verse used in The Ballad of the White Horse 
bad come to Gilbert in his sleep; a great white horse had been 
the romance of his childhood; the beginning of his honeymoon 
under die sign of the White Horse at Ipswich had been "a trip 
to fairyland/' But it is hard to say when the motif of the White 

A Circle of Friends 283 

Horse, the verses ringing in his head, and the ideas that make 
the poem, came together into what many think the greatest work 
of his life. 

In Father Brown on Chesterton we are told of the long time 
the poem took in the making* They talked of it on the York 
shire moors in 1906 and Father O'Connor noted how Frances 
"cherished it. ... I could see she was more in love with it 
than with anything else he had in hand." Father O'Connor also 
gives some interesting illustrations of the way talk ministers to 
a work of genius. He had begun one day <r by saying lightly that 
none of us could become great men without leaning on the 
little ones: could not well begin our day but for those who 
started theirs first for our sake, lighting the fire and cooking the 
breakfast/' This was said just before the dressing bell rang and 
between the bell and dinner Gilbert had written about nine 
verses beginning with King Alfred's meditation : 

And well may God with the serving folk 
Cast in His dreadful lot 
Is not He too a servant 
And is not He forgot? 

In 1907, Gilbert published in the Albany Review a "Fragment 
from a Ballad Epic of Alfred" which evoked the comment "Mr. 
Chesterton certainly has in each eye a special Rontgen my 

He wrote The White Horse guided by his favourite theory 
that to realise history we should not delve into the details of 
research but try only to see the big thingsfor it is those that 
we generally overlook. 

People talk about features of interest; but the features never make 
up a face. . . . They will toil wearily off to the tiniest inscription or 
darkest picture that is mentioned in a guide book as having some 
reference to Alfred the Great or William the Conqueror; but tfaey 
care nothing for the sky that Alfred saw or the hills on 
William hunted. 

284 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

In the King Alfred country especially can be found "the far- 
flung Titanic figure of the Giant Albion whom Blake saw in 
visions, spreading to our encircling seas." * 

Gilbert wrote a sketch for the Daily News about this time, 
telling how an old woman in a donkey cart whom they had 
left far behind on the road went driving triumphantly past when 
the car they were in broke down. For this expedition, as so often 
later, he made full use of the modern invention he derided. In 
an open touring car hired for the occasion, Gilbert in Inverness 
cape and shapeless hat, Frances beside him snugly wrapped up, 

Saw the smoke-hued hamlets quaint 

With Westland King and Westland Saint, 

And watched the western glory faint 

Along the road to Frome. 

The note struck in the dedication and recurring throughout 
the poem is that of the Christian idea which had made England 
great and which he had learnt from Frances: 

Wherefore I bring these rhymes to you 
Who brought the cross to me, 
Since on you flaming without flaw 
I saw the sign that Guthrum saw 
When he let break his ships of awe 
And laid peace on the sea. 

In the poem Christian men, whether they be Saxon or Roman 
or Briton or Celt, are banded together to fight the heathen 
Danes in defence of the sacred things of faith, in defence of 
the human things of daily life, in defence even of the old tradi 
tions of pagan England 

. . , because it is only Christian men 
guard even heathen things. 

Gilbert constantly disclaimed the idea that he took trouble 
over anything: "taking trouble has never been a weakness of 
*GX's Weekly, Apr. 16, 1927. 

A Circle of Friends 285 

mine": but in what might be termed a large and loose way he 
really did take immense trouble over what interested him. King 
Alfred is not an almost mythical figure like King Arthur and 
an outline of his story with legendary fringes can be traced in 
the Wessex country and confirmed by literature. Gilbert wanted 
this general story: he did not want antiquarian exactness of 

Into the mouths of Guthrum and of King Alfred, he put the 
expression of the pagan and the Christian outlook. Nor did he 
hesitate to let King Alfred prophesy at large concerning the 
days of G. K. Chesterton. The poem is a ballad in the sense of 
the old ballads that were stirring stories: it is also an expression 
of the threefold love of Gilbert's life: his wife, his country and 
his Faith. And as in all great poetry, there is a quality of eternity 
in this poem that has made it serve as an expression of the 
eternal Spirit of man. 

During the first world war many soldiers had it with them 
in the trenches: "I want to tell you/' the widow of a sailor 
wrote, "that a copy of the Ballad of the White Horse went down 
into the Humber with the R.sS. My husband loved it as his 
own soul never went anywhere without it" 

Almost thirty years have passed and today the poem still 
speaks. Greeting Jacques Maritain on the occasion of his six 
tieth birthday, Dorothy Thompson quoted King Alfred's asser 
tion of Christian freedom against "the pagan nazi conquerors 
of his day." After Crete the Times had the shortest first leader 
in its history. Under the heading Sursum Carda was a brief 
statement of the disaster, followed by the words of Our Lady to 
King Alfred: 

I tell you naught for your comfort, 
Yea, naught for your desire, 
Save that the sky grows darker yet 
And the sea rises higher. 

2,86 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Night shall be thrice night over you, 
And heaven an iron cope. 
Do you have joy without a cause, 
. Yea, faith without a hope? 

The unbreakable strength of that apparently faint and tenu 
ous thread of faith appeared in the sequel. Many had the Ballad 
in hand in those dark days; many others wrote to the Times 
asking the source of the quotation. Months later when Winston 
Churchill spoke of "the end of the beginning," the Times re 
turned to The White Horse and gave the opening of Alfred's 
speech at Ethandune: 

"The high tide!" King Alfred cried. 
'The high tide and the turn!" 

The Disillusioned Liberal 

The English were not -wrong in loving liberty. They were only 
wrong in losing it. 

G.K.'s Weekly, June I T 1933. 

ONE MAIN DIFFICULTY in writing biography lies in the 
various strands that run through every human life. It is 
as I have already said impossible to keep a perfect chronological 
order with anyone whose occupations and interests were so mul 
tifarious. In the present chapter and the two that follow we shall 
consider the movement of Chesterton's mind upon politics and 
sociology. This.will involve going back to the general Election of 
1906 and forward to the Marconi Trial of 1913. For those who 
are interested in his poetry or his humour or his philosophy or 
his theology but not at all in his sociological and political out 
look, I fear that these three chapters may loom a little uninvit- 
ingly. If they are tempted to skip them altogether, I shall not 
blame them; yet they will miss a great deal that is vital to the 
understanding of his whole mind and the course his life was to 
take. These are not the most entertaining chapters in the book, 
but if we are really to know Chesterton the events they cover 
must be considered most carefully. 

As a boy Gilbert Chesterton spoke of politics as absorbing "for 
every ardent intellect"; and during these years he was himself 
deeply concerned with the politics of England. The ideal 
Liberalism sketched in his letter to Hammond during the Boca: 
War * had appeared to him, if not perfectly realised, at least cap^ 

* See above, pp. 135-6- 


288 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

ble of realisation, in the existing Liberal Party. The Tory Party 
was in power and all its acts, to say nothing of its general inepti 
tude, appeared to Liberals as positive arguments for their own 
party. At this date so convinced a Tory as Lord Hugh Cecil 
could describe his own party as "to mix metaphors, an eviscerated 
ruin/' * Several letters and postcards from Mr. Belloc announc 
ing his own election as Liberal member for South Salford show 
the high hope with which young Liberalism was viewing the 
world in 1906: 


I have, as you will have seen, pulled it off by 852. It is huge fun. 
I am now out against all Vermin: Notably South African Jews. 
The Devil is let loose: let all men beware. H. B. 

(Written across top of letter) 

Tomorrow Monday Meet the Manchester train arriving Huston 
6.10 and oblige your little friend HB St. Hilary's Day. 

Don't fail to meet that train. Stamps are cheap! HB 
I beg you. I implore you. Meet that 6.10 train. 

Stamps are a drug in the market. 


Meet that train! 
Stamps are given away now in Salford. 

From 1902, when the general election left the Conservatives 
still in power, until 1906 the Liberal party had been, as Chester 
ton described it, "in the desert/' And the younger members of 
the party were deeply concerned with hammering out a positive 
philosophy which might inspire a true programme for their own 
party. A group of them wrote a book called England A Nation 
with the sub-tide Papers of A Patriot's Club. The Patriot's Club 
had no real existence, but I imagine that Lucian Oldershaw 
who edited the book believed that its publication might create 

*In a letter to Wilfrid Ward. 

The Disillusioned Liberal 289 

the club. Belloc was not one of the contributors, but Hugh Law 
wrote ably on Ireland, J. L. Hammond on South Africa, and 
Conrad Noel, Henry Nevinson and C. F. G. Masterman on 
other aspects of the political scene. 

The whole book is on a fairly high level but Chesterton's 
essay was the only one much noticed by reviewers. It was the 
introductory chapter, far longer than any of the others, and gave 
the key to the whole book. Entitled "The Idea of Patriotism" it 
was, like The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which it does much to 
illumine, a plea for patriotism that was really for England and 
not for the British Empire. Such a patriotism recognizes the 
limitations proper to nationality and admits, nay admires, other 
patriotisms for other nations. Thus, in Chesterton's eyes a true 
English patriot should also be an ardent home ruler for Ireland 
since Ireland too was a nation. 

He stressed the danger that the nationhood of England 
should be absorbed and lost in the Imperial idea. The claim that 
in an empire the various races could learn much from one 
another he considered a bit of special pleading on the part of 
Imperialists. England had learned much from France and Ger 
many but, although Ireland had much to teach, we had not 
learned from Ireland. The real patriotism of the Englishman 
had been dimmed both by the emphasis on the Imperial idea 
and by the absence of roots in his own land. The governing 
classes had destroyed those roots and tad almost forgotten the 
existence of the people. From the dregs and off-scourings of the 
population a vast empire had been created, but the people of 
England were not allowed to colonize England. 

The Education Bill of 1902, brought in by the Conserva 
tives and giving financial support to Church schools, saw Gil 
bert in general agreement with the Liberal attacks. He did 
not yet appreciate the Catholic idea that education must be of 
one piece and he did not think it fair that the country should 
support specifically Catholic schools. Parents could give at hooae 

290 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

the religious instruction they wanted their children to have. But 
with that fairness of mind'which made it so hard for him to be a 
party man he saw why the Liberal "Compromise" of simple 
Bible teaching for all in the State schools could not be expected 
to satisfy Catholics. He wrote to the Daily News: 

The Bible compromise is certainly in favour of the Protestant view 
of the Bible. The thing, properly stated, is as plain as the nose on 
your face. Protestanf Christianity believes that there is a Divine 
record in a book; that everyone ought to have free access to that 
book; that everyone who gets hold of it can save his soul by it, 
whether he finds it in a library or picks it off a dustcart. Catholic 
Christianity believes that there is a Divine army or league upon 
earth called the Church; that all men should be induced to join it; 
that any man who joins it can save his soul by it without ever open 
ing any of the old books of the Church at all. The Bible is only one 
of the institutions of Catholicism, like its rites or its priesthood; it 
thinks the Bible only efficient when taken as part of the Church. 
. . . This being so, a child could see that if you have the Bible 
taught alone, anyhow, by anybody, you do definitely decide in favour 
of the first view of the Bible and against the second. 

Discussing a few years later whether it was possible or satis 
factory to teach the Bible simply as Literature he put his finger 
on the Catholic objection. "I should not mind," he said, "chil 
dren being told about Mohammed because I am not a Moham 
medan. If I were a Mohammedan I should very much want to 
know what they were told about him/* 

While as for the unfortunate teacher: in case a child should 
ask if the things in the Bible happened, '"'Either the teacher 
must answer him insincerely and that is immorality, or he must 
answer him sincerely, and that is sectarian education, or he must 
refuse to answer him at all, and that is first of all bad manners 
and a sort of timid tyranny . . ." 

Chesterton's Liberalism received a further shock from the fact 
that Liberals, in attacking the Bill, were attacking also the 
Catholic faith and raising the cry of No Popery. In a corres- 

The Disillusioned Liberal ' 291 

pondence with Dr. Clifford he reminded him of how they had 
stood together against popular fanaticism during the Boer War. 

There are two cries always capable of raising the English in their 
madness one that the Union Jack is being pulled down, and one 
that the Pope is being set up. And upon the man who raises one of 
them responsibility will lie heavy till the last day. For when they 
are raised, the best are mixed with the worst, every rational com 
promise is dashed to pieces, every opponent is given credit for the 
worst that the worst of his allies has by his worst enemy been said 
to have said. That horror of darkness swept across us when the war 
began. . . . 

Beyond all question this is true that if we choose to fight on the 
"No Popery" cry, we may win. But I can imagine something of 
which I should be prouder than of any victory the memory that 
we had shown our difference from Mr. Chamberlain simply and 
finally in this that to our hand had lain (as it once laid to his) an 
old, an effectual, an infallible, and a filthy weapon, and tliat we 
let it lie.* 

Yet it was fairly easy to be a Liberal in opposition. At the 
elections of 1902 (which the Liberals lost) and 1906 (which 
they won) Chesterton canvassed for the Liberal party. Charles 
Masterman used to tell a story of canvassing a street in his com 
pany. Both started at the same end on opposite sides of the road. 
Masterman completed his side and came back on the other to 
find Chesterton still earnestly arguing at the first house. For he 
was passionately serious in his belief that the Liberal Party stood 
for a real renewal, even revolution, in the life of England. "At 
the present moment of victory/' says the report of a speech by 
Gilbert following the great swing of the Liberal party into power 
in 1906, he called for "that magnanimity towards the defeated 
that characterized all great conquerors. It was important that all 
should develop even the Tory/' It needed the experience of 
seeing the Liberal party in power to shake his faith, 

In the new House of Commons the Conservatives were a* 

* Letter to the Doily News, October 1902. 

292 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

a minority: against them were the two old parties the Liberals 
and the Irish members who were in general allied to them, and 
a small group forming a new party known as Labour. The 
Labour Members who got into Parliament in 1906 and 1909 
were regarded by Conservatives as being a kind of left-wing 
extension of the Liberal Party. Such a Liberal as Chesterton saw 
them there with delight, and, although he would still have called 
himself a Liberal, he at first hoped in the Labour men as some 
thing more truly expressive of the people's wishes. 

In an introduction to From Workhouse to Westminster, a 
life of Will Crooks, Gilbert expressed a good deal of his own 
political philosophy. As a democrat he believed in the ideal 
of direct government by the people. But obviously this was only 
possible in a world that was also his ideal a world consisting of 
small and even of very small states. The democrat's usual al 
ternative, representative government, was, Gilbert said, sym 
bolic in character. Just as religious symbolism "may for a time 
represent a real emotion and then for a time cease to represent 
anything, so representative government may for a time repre 
sent the people, and for a time cease to represent anything/ 1 

Further, the very idea of representation itself involved two per 
fectly distinct notions: a man throws a shadow or he throws a 
stone. "In the first sense, it is supposed that the representative 
is like the thing he represents. In the second case, it is only 
supposed that the representative is useful to the thing he rep 
resents." Workmen, like Conservatives, sent men to Parliament 
not to show what they themselves were like, but to attack the 
other party in their name. "The Labour Members as a class are 
not representatives but missiles. . . . Working men are not at 
all Kke Mr. Keir Hardie. If it comes to likeness, working men 
are more like the Duke of Devonshire. But they throw Mr. Keir 
Hardie at the Duke of Devonshire, knowing that he is so curi 
ously shaped as to hurt anything at which he is thrown." * In 

* Introduction to From Workhouse to Westminster, p. XV. 

The Disillusioned Liberal 293 

the same way Mr. Balfour was entirely unlike the Tory squires 
who used him as a weapon. To this rule, that men do not choose 
to be represented by their like, Chesterton took Will Crooks as 
the one exception: 

You have not yet seen the English people in politics. It has not 
yet entered politics. Liberals do not represent it; Tories do not repre 
sent it; Labour Members, on the whole, represent it rather less than 
Tories or Liberals. When it enters politics it will bring with it a 
trail of all the things that politicians detest; prejudices (as against 
hospitals), superstitions (as about funerals), a thirst for respectability 
passing that of the middle classes, a faith in the family which will 
knock to pieces half the Socialism of Europe. If ever that people 
enters politics it will sweep away most of our revolutionists as mere 
pedants. It will be able to point only to one figure, powerful, 
pathetic, humorous and very humble, who bore in any way upon his 
face the sign and star of its authority.* 

It was sad enough after this to see Will Crooks fathering one 
of those very Bills for the interference with family life which 
Chesterton most hated. But, indeed, the years that followed the 
1906 election are a story of a steadily growing disillusion 
ment with the realities of representative government in Eng 

Chesterton wrote regularly for the Daily News and was re 
garded as one of their most valuable contributors. But when, 
following an attack in the House of Commons on the Liberal 
leader Campbell-Bannerman over the sale of peerages, he sent 
in an article on the subject, the Editor A. G. Gardiner wrote 
(July 12, 1907): 

I have left your article out tonight not because I do not entirely 
agree with its point of view but because just at this moment it would 
look like backing Lea's unmannerly attack on C. B. I am keeping 
the article in type for a later occasion when the general question is 
not complicated with a particularly offensive incident. 

* IKd., p. XX. 

294 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

It was a test case, and it seemed to Chesterton not a question 
of good manners, but of something far more fundamental The 
assertion had been made in the House of Commons that peer 
ages were being sold, and that the price of such sales was the 
chief support of the secret party funds. But the Daily News was 
a Liberal paper and this was an attack on the Liberal party. 
Chesterton replied (July 14, 1907): 

I am sure you know by this time that I never resent the exclusion 
of my articles as such. I should always trust your literary judgment, 
if it were a matter of literature only: and I daresay you have often 
saved me from an indiscretion and your readers from a bore. Unfor 
tunately this matter of the party funds is not one of that sort. My 
conscience .does not often bother you, but just now the animal is 
awake and roaring. Your paper has always championed the rights of 
conscience, so mine naturally goes to you. If you disagreed with me, 
it would be another matter. But since you agree with me (as I was 
sure you would) it becomes simply a question of which is the more 
important, politeness or political morality. I agree that Lea did go to 
the point of being unmannerly. So did Plimsoll, so did Bradlaugh: 
so did the Irish members. But surely it would be a very terrible 
thing if anyone could say "The Daily News suppressed all demand 
for the Plimsoll line/' or "The Daily News did not join in asking for 
Bradlaugh's political rights." I am sure that this is not your idea. You 
think that this matter can be better raised later on. I am convinced 
of its urgency. I am so passionately convinced of its urgency that if 
you will not help me to raise it now, I must try some other channel. 
They are going on Monday to raise a "breach of privilege" (which is 
simply an aristocratic censorship of the Press) in order to crush this 
question through the man who raised it: and to crush it forever. I 
have said that I think Lea's questions violent and needless. But they 
are not attacking his questions. They are attacking his letter, which 
contains nothing that I do not think, probably nothing that you do 
not think. Lea is to be humiliated and broken because he said that 
tides are bought* as they are: because he said that poor members are 
reminded of their dependence on the party funds; as they are: be 
cause he said that all this was hypocrisy of public life; as it is. ... 

One thing is quite certain. Unless some liberal journalists speak on 

The Disillusioned Liberal 295 

Monday or Tuesday, the secret funds and the secret powers are safe. 
These Parliamentary votes mark eras: they are meant to. And that 
vote will not mark a defence of C B. The letter had nothing to do 
with C. B. It will mark the final decision that any repetition of what 
Lea said in his letter is an insult to the House. That is, any protest 
against bought tides will he an insult to the House. Any protest 
against secret funds will he an insult to the House. 

I would willingly burn my article if I were only sure you would 
publish one yourself tomorrow on the same lines. But if not, here is 
at least one thing you can do. An article, even signed, may perhaps 
commit the paper too much. But your paper cannot be committed by 
publishing a letter from me stating my opinions. It might publish a 
letter from Joe Chamberlain, stating his opinions. I therefore send 
you a short letter, pointing out the evil, and disassociating it as far as 
possible from the indiscretions of Lea. I am sure you will publish 
this, for it is the mere statement of a private opinion and as I am not 
an M. P. I can say what I like about Parliament. You will not mind 
my confessing to you my conviction and determination in this matter. 
I do not think we could quarrel, even if we had to separate. 

The letter was published, and was quoted in the House of 
Commons by Lord Robert Cecil amid general applause. But it 
was twenty years before a Bill was passed that forbade this par 
ticular unpleasantness. 

While political corruption stirred Chesterton deeply, I think 
his outlook was even more affected by the progressive Socialism 
of Liberal legislation. He had honestly believed that the L2>- 
eral Party stood, on the whole, for Kberty. He found that it 
stood increasingly for daily and hourly interference with the 
lives of the people. He found too that the Liberal papers, whidi 
he held should have been foremost in criticism of these meas 
ures, were as determined to uphold measures brought in by a 
Liberal Government as they had been to attack anything that 
the Tories brought forward. 

It has been well said by Mr. Belloc that Chesterton could 
never write as a party man. But to the ordinary party newspajpear 

296 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

such an attitude was utterly incomprehensible. I think that we 
can also see at this point how alien his fundamental outlook was 
from that even of the best members of his own Party. A great 
admirer said to me the other day that it had taken her a long 
time to appreciate Chesterton's sociology. "You see, I was 
brought up to think that it was quite right for the poor to have 
their teeth brushed by officials." This is undoubtedly the normal 
Socialistic outlook and the outlook most abhorrent to Chester 
ton. "The philanthropist/' he once said, "is not a brother; he is 
a supercilious aunt." 

The five years of Liberal Government had been disillusioning 
to many others besides Belloc and the Chesterton brothers. 
Probably many men in newspaper offices and elsewhere con 
tinued vaguely to support the party to which their own paper 
belonged. But there were others who were in those days going 
through a struggle between principles and Party which became 
increasingly acute. Gilbert has described his own feelings in a 
review of Galsworthy's play Loyalties, written several years later 
during the first World War. 

. . . The author of Loyalty suffers one simple and amazing delu 
sion. He imagines that in those pre-war politics Liberalism was on 
the side of Labour. On this point at least I can correct him from the 
most concrete experience. In the newspaper office where his hero 
lingered, wondering how much longer he could stand its Pacificism, 
I was lingering and wondering how much longer I could stand its 
complete and fundamental Capitalism, its invariable alliance with 
the employer, its invariable hostility to the striker. No such scene as 
that in which the Liberal editor paced the room raving about his 
hopes of a revolution ever occurred in the Liberal newspaper office 
that I knew; the least hint of a revolution would have caused quite 
as much horror there as in the offices of the Morning Post. On 
nothing was the Pacifist more pacifist than upon that point. No work 
man so genuine as the workman who figures in Loyalty ever figured 
among such Liberals. The fact is that such Liberalism was in no way 
whatever on the side of Labour; on the contrary, it was on the side 
of the Labour Party. . . . 

The Disillusioned Liberal 297 

Both Chesterton and Belloc had hegun to point out that a 
Free Press had almost disappeared from England. The revenue 
of most of the newspapers depended not on subscriptions but 
on advertisement. Therefore nothing could be said in them 
which was displeasing to their wealthy advertisers. Nor was this 
the worst of it. Very rich men were often owners of half a 
dozen papers or more and dictated their policy. An outstanding 
example was Alfred Harmsworth Lord Northcliffe whose 
newspapers ranged from the Times through the Daily Mail to 
Answers. Thus to every section of the English people, Harms- 
worth was able to convey day by day such news as he thought 
best together with his own outlook and philosophy of life such 
as it was. Still worse, the Times had not lost in the eyes of 
Europe, to say nothing of America, that reputation it had held 
so long of being the official expression of English opinion. It 
was still the Jupiter of Trollope's day, the maker of ministries 
or their undoing. In the days of a Free Press a paper held such 
a position in virtue of the talents of its staff. Editors were then 
powerful individuals and would brook little interference. But 
today the editor was commonly only the mouthpiece of the 

It is surprising that Gilbert and the official Liberal Press so 
long tolerated one another. The Daily News and other papers 
owned by Mr. Cadbury (of Cadbury's Cocoa) were often re 
ferred to as "the Cocoa Press" and it happened that it was not 
in the end political disagreement alone that brought the Ches- 
terton-Cadbury alliance to an end. In one of Gilbert's poems in 
praise of wine are the lines: 

Cocoa is a cad and coward, 
Cocoa is a vulgar "beast 

In the Autobiography he tells us that after he had published 
the poem he felt he could write no longer for the Daily News. 
He went from the Daily News to the Daily HeraU, to the Ecfr 

298 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

tor of which he wrote that the News "had come to stand for 
almost everything I disagree with; and I thought I had better 
resign before the next great measure of social reform made it 
illegal to go on strike." G.K. was a considerable asset to any paper 
and had recently been referred to by Shaw (in a debate with 
Belloc) as "a flourishing property of Mr. Cadbury's." 

Politically the break was bound to come, for even when 
Dickens was published Gilbert Chesterton had reached the stage 
of saying "as much as ever I did, more than ever I did, I believe 
in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I 
believed in Liberals/' At this time too he infuriated an orthodox 
Liberal journalist by saying of the party leaders "Some of them 
are very nice old gentlemen, some of them are very nasty old 
gentlemen, and some of them are old without being gentlemen 
at all/' An orthodox church journalist in a periodical charm 
ingly entitled Church Bells got angrier yet. "A certain Mr. G. K. 
Chesterton," he wrote, had, when speaking for the C.S.U. in 
St. Pauls Chapter House, remarked "the best of his Majesty's 
Ministers are agnostics, and the worst devil worshippers." 
Church Bells cries out: 'We only mention this vulgar falsehood 
because we regret that an association, with which the names of 
many of our respected ecclesiastics are connected, should have 
allowed the bad taste and want of all gentlemanly feeling dis 
played by the words quoted, to have passed unchallenged/' 
"Vulgar falsehood" is surely charming. 

But perhaps even deeper than his disillusionment with any 
Party was his growing sense of the unreality of the political scene. 
He has described it in the Autobiography: 

I was finding it difficult to believe in politics; because the reality 
seemed almost unreal, as compared with the reputation or the report. 
I could give twenty instances to indicate what I mean, but they 
would be BO more than indications, because the doubt itself was 
doubtful. I remember going to a great Liberal dub, and walking 
about in a large crowded room, somewhere at the end of which a 

The Disillusioned Liberal 299 

bald gentleman with a beard was reading something from a manu 
script in a low voice. It was hardly unreasonable that we did not 
listen to him, because we could not in any case have heard; but I 
think a very large number of us did not even see him ... it is pos 
sible, though not certain, that one or other of us asked carelessly 
what was supposed to be happening in the other corner of the large 
hall. . . . Next morning I saw across the front of my Liberal paper 
in gigantic headlines the phrase: "Lord Spencer Unfurls the Ban 
ner." Under this were other remarks, also in large letters, about how 
he had blown the trumpet for Free Trade and how the blast would 
ring through England and rally all the Free-Traders. It did appear, 
on careful examination, that the inaudible remarks which the old 
gentleman had read from the manuscript were concerned with eco 
nomic arguments for Free Trade; and very excellent arguments too, 
for all I know. But the contrast between what that orator was to the 
people who heard him, and what he was to the thousands of news 
paper-readers who did not hear him, was so huge a hiatus and dis 
proportion that I do not think I ever quite got over it. I knew hence 
forward what was meant, or what might be meant, by a Scene in 
the House, or a Challenge from the Platform, or any of those sen 
sational events which take place in the newspapers and nowhere 

As in Orthodoxy Chesterton had formulated his religious be 
liefs, so in What's Wrong With the World he laid the founda 
tions of his sociology. It will be remembered that, giving evi 
dence before the Commission on the Censorship, Chesterton 
declared himself to be concerned only with the good and hap 
piness of the English people. Where he differed from nearly 
every other social reformer was that he believed that they should 
themselves decide what was for their own good and happi 

'The body of ideas," says Monsignor Knox of Gilbert's sociol 
ogy,, "which he labelled, rather carelessly, 'distributism* is a body 
of ideas which still lasts, and I think will last, but it is not exactly 
a doctrine, or a philosophy; it is simply Chesterton's reaction to 


*Pp. 201-2. f The Listener, June 19* 194*- 

300 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

It may be said that a man's philosophy is in the main a formu 
lation of his reaction to life. Anyhow life seems to be the opera 
tive word for it is the word that best conveys the richness of 
this first book of Chesterton's sociology. All the wealth of life's 
joys, life's experiences, is poured into his view of man and man's 
destiny. Already developing manhood to its fullest potential he 
found in this book a new form of expression. To quote Mon- 
signor Knox again, "I call that man intellectually great who is 
an artist in thought ... I call that man intellectually great 
who can work equally well in any medium." The poet-philoso 
pher worked surprisingly well in the medium of sociology. 

He had intended to call the book, 'What's Wrong?" and it 
begins on this note of interrogation. The chapter called "The 
Medical Mistake" is a brilliant attack on the idea that we must 
begin social reform by diagnosing the disease. "It is the whole 
definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must 
actually find the cure before we find the disease." The thing that 
is most terribly wrong with our modern civilisation is that it has 
lost not only health but the clear picture of health. The doctor 
called in to diagnose a bodily illness does not say: we have had 
too much scarlet fever, let us try a little measles for a change. 
But the sociological doctor does offer to the dispossessed prole 
tarian a cure which, says Chesterton, is only another kind of 
disease. We cannot work towards a social ideal until we are 
certain what that ideal should be. We must, therefore, begin 
with principles and we are to find those principles in the nature 
of man, largely through a study of his history. Man has had 
historically and man needs for his fulfilment the family, the 
home and the possession of property. The notion of property 
has, for the modem age, been defiled by the corruptions of 
capitalism; but modern capitalism is really a negation of prop 
erty because it is a denial of its limitations. He summarises this 
Idea with one of his most brilliant illustrations: "It is the nega- 

The Disillusioned Liberal 301 

tion of property that the Duke of Sutherland should have all the 
farms in one estate; just as it would be the negation of marriage 
if he had all our wives in one harem." 

But property in its real meaning is almost the condition for 
the survival of the family. It is its protection, it is the opportu 
nity of its development. God has the joy of unlimited creation 
He can make something out of nothing; hut He has given to 
Man the joy of limited creation Man can make something out 
of anything. "Fruitful strife with limitations/' self-expression 
"with limits that are strict and even small/* all this belongs to 
the artist, but also to the average man. "Property is merely the 
art of the democracy/* 

The family, protected by the possession of some degree of 
property, will grow by its own laws. What are these laws? 
Clearly there are two sets of problems, one concerned with life 
within the family, the other with the relation of the family to 
the state. These two sets of problems provide the subject-matter 
of the book. On both Chesterton felt that there had been insuffi 
cient thinking. Thus he says of the first: "There is no brain- 
work in the thing at all; no root query of what sex is, of whether 
it alters this or that." And of the second: "It is quite unfair to 
say that Socialists believe in the State but do not believe in 
the Family. But it is true to say that Socialists are especiaDy 
engaged in strengthening and renewing the State; and they are 
not especially engaged in strengthening and renewing the Fam 
ily. They are not doing anything to define the functions of father, 
mother and child, as such they have no firm instinctive sense 
of one thing being in its nature private and another public/* 

It is precisely this kind of root-thinking that the book does. 
In the free family there will be a division of the two sides of 
life, between the man and the woman. The man must be, to a 
certain extent, a specialist; he must do one thing well enough 
to earn the daily bread. The woman is the universalist; she must 

302, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

do a hundred things for the safeguarding and development of 
the home. The modern fad of talking of the narrowness of do 
mesticity especially provoked Chesterton. "I cannot," he said 

with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. 
When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty 
arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means 
dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a 
man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a 
gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy 
because it is trifling, colourless and of small import to the soul, then 
as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be 
Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, 
labours and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing 
toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain 
area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can under 
stand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how 
it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's 
children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's 
own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the 
same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? 
No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not 
because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her 
task; I will never pity her for its smallness.* 

While he was writing these pages and after their appearance 
in print, G.K. was constantly asked to debate the question of 
Women's Suffrage. He was an anti-suffragist, partly because he 
was a democrat. The suffrage agitation in England was con 
ducted by a handful of women, mainly of the upper classes; 
and it gave Cecil Chesterton immense pleasure to head articles 
an the movement with the words, <r Votes for Ladies/' G.K. too 
felt that the suffrage agitation was really doing harm by drag 
ging a red herring across the path of necessary social reform. 
If the vast majority of women did riot want votes it was un 
democratic to force votes upon them. Also, if rich men had 

* What's Wnwtg With the World, chapter 3, "The Emancipation of Domes 

The Disillusioned Liberal 303 

oppressed poor men all through the course of history, it was 
exceedingly probable that rich women would also oppress poor 
women. Both in What's Wrong With the World and in debat 
ing on the subject, Chesterton brushed aside as absurd and 
irrelevant the suggestion that women were inferior to men and 
what was called the physical force argument. But he did main 
tain that if the vote meant anything at all (which it probably 
did not in the England he was living in), it meant that side of 
life which belongs to masculinity and which the normal woman 
dislikes and rather despises. 

All we men had grown used to our wives and mothers, and grand 
mothers, and great aunts all pouring a chorus of contempt upon our 
hobbies of sport, drink and party politics. And now comes Miss Pank- 
hurst with tears in her eyes, owning that all the women were wrong 
and all the men were right. . . . We told our wives that Parliament 
had sat late on most essential business; but it never crossed our 
minds that our wives would believe it. We said that everyone must 
have a vote in the country; similarly our wives said that no one must 
have a pipe in the drawing-room. In both cases the idea was the 
same. "It does not matter much, but if you let those things slide 
there is chaos." We said that Lord Huggins or Mr. Buggins was 
absolutely necessary to the country. We knew quite well that noth 
ing is necessary to the country except that the men should be men 
and the women women. We knew this; we thought the women 
knew it even more clearly; and we thought the women would say it. 
Suddenly, without warning, the women have begun to say all the 
nonsense that we ourselves hardly believed when we said it * . .* 

All the agitated reformers who were running about and offer 
ing their various nostrums were prepared to confess that some 
thing had gone very wrong with modern civilisation. But they 
suggested that what was wrong with the present generation c 
adults could be set right for the coming generation by means of 
education. In the last part of the book, "Education or the Mis 
take about the Child/' he put the unanswerable question: 

* From chapter VII, T^ke Modern Surrender. 

304 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

are we to give what we have not got? "To hear people talk one 
would think [education] was some sort of magic chemistry, by 
which, out of a laborious hotch-potch of hygienic meals, baths, 
breathing-exercises, fresh-air and freehand drawing, we can pro 
duce something splendid by accident; we can create what we 
cannot conceive." The social reformers who were talking about 
education seem not to have seen very clearly what they meant 
by the word. They argued about whether it meant putting ideas 
into the child or drawing ideas out of the child. In any case, as 
Chesterton pointed out, you must choose which kind of ideas 
you are going to put in or even which kind you are going to 
draw out. 'TThere is indeed in each living creature a collection 
of forces and functions; but education means producing these in 
particular shapes and training them for particular purposes, or 
it means nothing at all/' 

But to decide what they were trying to produce was altogether 
too much for the men who were directing education in our 
Board Schools. The Public Schools * of England were often the 
target of Chesterton's attacks; but they had, he declared, one 
immense superiority over the Board Schools. The men who 
directed them knew exactly what they wanted and were on the 
whole successful in producing it. Those responsible for the 
Board Schools seemed to have no idea excepting that of feebly 
imitating the Public Schools. One disadvantage of this was that, 
at its worst and at its best, the Public School idea could only be 
applicable to a small governing class. The other disadvantage 
was that whereas in the Public Schools the masters were work 
ing with the parents and trying to give the boys the same gen 
eral shape as their homes would give them, the Board Schools 
were doing nothing of the kind. The schoolmaster of the poor 
never worked with the parents; often he ignored them; some 
times he positively worked against them. Such education was, 
Chesterton held, the very reverse of that which would prevail in 

* See footnote, p. 20* 

The Disillusioned Liberal 305 

a true democracy. "We have had enough education for the peo 
ple; we want education by the people/' 

Chesterton felt keenly that while the faddists were perfectly 
prepared to take the children out of the hands of any parents 
who happened to be poor, they had not really the courage of 
their own convictions. They would expatiate upon methods; 
they could not define their aims; they would take refuge in such 
meaningless terms as progress cc efficiency or success. They were 
not prepared to say what they wanted to succeed in producing, 
towards what goal they were progressing or what was the test 
of efficiency. And part of this inability arose from their curious 
fear of the past. Most movements of reform have looked to the 
past for great part of their inspiration. To reform means to 
shape anew, and he pointed out that every revolution involves 
the idea of a return. On this point, G.K. attacked two popular 
sayings. One was "You can't put the clock back"; but, he said, 
you can and you do constantly. The clock is a piece of mecha 
nism which can be adjusted by the human finger. 'There is 
another proverb: 'As you have made your bed, so you must Ik 
on it'; which again is simply a lie. If I have made my bed un 
comfortable, please God, I will make it again/' 

It is easy to understand that this sort of philosophy should be 
out of time with the Socialist who looked with contempt on 
the wisdom of his forefathers. It is less easy to understand why 
it was unacceptable also to most of the Tories. One reviewer 
asked whether Mr. Chesterton was the hoariest of Conserva 
tives or the wildest of Radicals, And with none of his books are 
the reviews so bewildered as they are with this one. 'The uni 
verse is ill-regulated," said the Liverpool Daily Post, "according 
to the fancy of Mr. Chesterton; but we are inclined to think that 
if the deity were to talk over matters with him, he would soo 
come to see that a Chestertonian cosmos would be no improve 
ment on things as they are." On the other hand, the Toronto 

306 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Globe remarks, "His boisterous optimism will not admit that 
there is anything to sorrow over in this best of all possible 
worlds." The Observer suggested that Chesterton would find no 
disciples because "his converts would never know from one week 
to another what they had been converted to"; while the York 
shire Post felt that the chief disadvantage of the book was that 
"a shrewd reader can pretty accurately anticipate Mr. Chester 
ton's point of view on any subject whatsoever." 

It seems almost incredible that so definite a line of thought, 
so abundantly illustrated, should not have been clear to all his 
readers. Some reviewers, one supposes, had not read the book; 
but surely the Daily Telegraph was deliberately refusing to face 
a challenge when it wrote: "His whole book is an absurdity, 
but to be absurd for three hundred pages on end is itself a work 
of genius." That particular reviewer was shirking a serious issue, 
He was the official Tory. But those whom I might call the 
unofficial Tories, such men for instance as my own father, re 
ceived much of this book with delight and yet declined to take 
Chesterton's sociology seriously. And I think it is worth trying 
to see why this was the case. 

In a letter to the Clarion, G.K. outlines his own position: ''If 
you want praise or blame for Socialists I have enormous quanti 
ties of both. Roughly speaking (i) I praise them to infinity 
because they want to smash modern society. (2) I blame them 
to infinity because of what they want to put in its place. As the 
smashing must, I suppose, come first, my practical sympathies 
are mainly with them." * 

Such a confession of faith seemed shocking to the honest old- 
fashioned Tory. And because it shocked him, he made the 
mistake of calling it irresponsible. Chesterton frequently urged 
revolution as the only possible means of changing an intolerable 
state of things. But the word "revolution" suggested streets run 
ning with blood. And, on the other hand, they had not the very 

* Letter to the Clarion, February 8, 1910. 

The Disillusioned Liberal 307 

faintest conception of how intolerable the state of things was 
against which Chesterton proposed to revolt. I think it must 
be said too that he was a little hazy as to the exact nature of 
the revolution he proposed. He certainly hoped to avoid the 
guillotine! And even when urging the restoration of the com 
mon lands to the people of England, he appended a note in 
which he talked of a land purchase scheme similar to that which 
George Wyndham had introduced in Ireland. But besides this 
tinge of vagueness in what he proposed, there was another weak 
ness in his presentment of his sociology which I think was his 
chief weakness as a writer. 

It would be hard to find anyone who got so much out of 
words, proverbs, popular sayings. He wrung every ounce of 
meaning out of them; he stood them on their heads; he turned 
them inside out. And everything he said he illustrated with an 
extraordinary wealth of fancy; but when you come to illustra 
tion by way of concrete facts there is a curious change. In his 
sociology, he did the same thing that his best critics blamed in 
his literary biographies. He would take some one fact and appear 
to build upon it an enormous superstructure and then, very 
often, it would turn out that the fact itself was inaccurately set 
down; and the average reader, discovering the inaccuracy, felt 
that the entire superstructure was on a rotten foundation and 
had fallen with it to the ground. Yet the ordinary reader was 
wrong. The "fact" had not been the foundation of his thought, 
but only the thing that had started him thinking. If the "fact" 
had not been there at all, his thinking would have been neither 
more nor less valid. But most readers could not see the distinction. 

It is a little difficult to make the point clear; but anyone who 
has read the Browning and the Dickens and then read the re 
views of them will recognise what I mean. It was universally 
acknowledged that Chesterton might commit a hundred inaccu 
racies and yet get at the heart of his subject in a way that like ( 
most painstaking biographer and critic could not emulate. The 

308 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

more deeply cne reads Dickens or Browning, the more even one 
studies their lives, the more one is confirmed as to the profound 
truth of the Chesterton estimate and the genius of his insight. 
A superficial glance sees only the errors; a deeper gaze discovers 
the truth* It is exactly the same with his sociology. But here we 
are in a field where there is far more prejudice. When Chester 
ton talked of State interference and used again and again the 
same illustration that of children whose hair was forcibly cut 
short in a Board School two questions were asked by Social 
ists: Was this a solitary incident? Was it accurately reported? 
When a pained doctor wrote to the papers saying the incident 
had been merely one of a request to parents who had gladly 
complied for fear their children should catch things from other 
and dirtier children, it appeared as though G.K. had built far 
too much on this one point. It was not the case. He was not 
building on the incident, he was illustrating by the incident. 
But it must be admitted that he was incredibly careless in investi 
gating such incidents; and quite indifferent as to his own ac 
curacy. And this was foolish, for he could have found in Police 
Court records, in the pages of John Bull and later of the Eye 
Witness itself, abundance of well verified illustrations of his 

In the same way, when he talked of the robbery of the people 
of England by the great landlords, he did not take the slightest 
trouble to prove his case to the many who knew nothing of the 
matter. It must be remembered that the sociological side of 
English history was only just beginning to be explored to any 
serious extent. In the Village Labourer, Mr. and Mrs. Hammond 
point out to what an extent they had had to depend on the 
Home Office papers and contemporary documents for the mass 
of facts which this book and the Town Labourer brought for the 
first time to the knowledge of the general public, Chesterton 
had worked with Hammond on the Speaker for some years. 
Just as with his book about Shaw so too with the background 

The Disillusioned Liberal 309 

of his sociology he could have gone round the corner and got 
the required information. He knew the thing in general terms; 
he would not be bothered to make that knowledge convincing 
to his readers. If to his genius for expounding ideas had been 
added an awareness of the necessity of marshalling and present 
ing facts, he must surely have convinced all men of goodwill. 

For in this matter the facts were there to marshal It was less 
than a hundred years since the last struggle of the English 
yeomen against a wholesale robbery and confiscation that catas- 
trophically altered the whole shape of our country. And it seems 
to have left no trace in the memory of the English poor. In 
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen describes Catherine Morland 
finding the traces of an imaginary crime. But Chesterton com 
ments that the crime she failed to discover was the very real one 
that the owner of Northanger Abbey was not an Abbot. The 
ordinary Englishman, however, thinks little of a crime that 
consisted in robbing "a lot of lazy monks/* That they had 
possessed so much of the land of England merely seemed to 
make the act a more desirable one: yet it was a confiscation, 
not so much of monks* land as of the people's knd administered 
by the monasteries. 

What is even less realised is how much of the structure of 
the mediaeval village remained after the Reformation and how 
widespread was small ownership nearly to the end of the eight 
eenth century, when Enclosures began estimated by the Ham 
monds at five million acres. This land ceased in effect to be the 
common property of the poor and became the private property 
of the rich. This business of the Enclosures must be treated at 
some little length because it had the same key position in Ches 
terton's sociological thinking as the Marconi Case (shortly to be 
discussed) had in his political. 

In every village of England had been small freeholders, copy 
holders and cottagers, all of whom had varying degrees of pos 
session in the common lands which were administered by a 

3io Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

manorial court of the village. These common lands were not 
mere stretches of heath and gorse but consisted partly of arable 
cultivated in strips with strict rules of rotation, partly of grazing 
land and partly of wood and heath. Most people in the village 
had a right to a strip of arable, to cut firing of brushwood and 
turf, and rushes for thatch, and to pasture one or more cows, 
their pigs and their geese. A village cowherd looked after all 
the animals and brought them back at night. Cobbett in his 
Cottage Economy (to a new edition of which Chesterton wrote 
a preface) reckoned that a cottager with a quarter-acre of gar 
den could well keep a cow on his own cabbages plus common- 
land grazing, could fatten his own pig and have to buy very 
little food for his family except grain and hops for home-baking 
and brewing. He puts a cottager's earnings, working part-time 
for a farmer, at about 10 sh. a week. This figure would vary, but 
the possession of property in stock and common rights would 
tide over bad times. A man with fire and food could be quasi- 
independent; and indeed some of the larger fanners, witnessing 
before Enclosure Enquiry Committees, complained of this very 
spirit of independence as producing idleness and "sauciness." 
The case for the Enclosures was that improved agricultural 
methods could not be used in the open fields: more food was 
grown for increasing town populations: much waste land 
ploughed: livestock immeasurably improved. Only later was the 
cost counted when cheap imported food for these same towns 
had slain English agriculture. The "compensation" in small 
plots or sums of money could not for the smaller commoners 
replace what they had lost even when they succeeded in get 
ting it* Claims had to be made in writing and few cottagers 
could write. How difficult too to reduce to its money value a 
claim for cutting turf or pasturing pigs and geese. A commis 
sioner, who had administered twenty Enclosure Acts, lamented 
to Arthur Young that he had been the means of ruining two 
(tousand poor people. But the gulf was so great between rich 

The Disillusioned Liberal 311 

and poor that all that the commons had meant to the poor was 
not glimpsed by the rich. Arthur Young had thought the benefits 
of common "perfectly contemptible," but by 1801 he was deeply 
repentant and trying in vain to arrest the movement he had 
helped to start. 

Before enclosure, the English cottager had had milk, butter 
and cheese in plenty, home-grown pork and bacon, home-brewed 
beer and home-baked bread, his own vegetables (although Cob- 
bett scorned green rubbish for human food and advised it to 
be fed to cattle only), his own eggs and poultry. After enclo 
sure, he could get no milk, for the farmers would not sell it; 
no meat, for his wages could not buy it; and he no longer had 
a pig to provide the fat bacon commended by Cobbett Working 
long hours he lived on bread, potatoes and tea, and insufficient 
even of these. Lord Winchelsea, one of the very few landowners 
who resisted the trend of the time, mentioned in the House of 
Lords the discovery of four labourers, starved to death under a 
hedge, and said this was a typical occurrence. 

At the beginning of the Enclosure period the Industrial Revo 
lution was barely in its infancy. A large part of the spinning, 
weaving and other manufactures was carried on in the cot 
tages of men who had gardens they could dig in and cows and 
pigs of their own. The invention of power machines, the dis 
covery of coal wherewith those machines couM be worked, fed 
to the concentration of factories in the huge cities. But it was 
the drift from the villages of dispossessed men, together with 
the cheap child labour provided by Poor Law Guardians, that 
made possible the starvation wages -and the tyranny of the fac 
tory system. And here the tyrants were largely of a different 
class, There were some landowners who also had f actories^ and 
more who possessed coal-mines, but many of the manufacturers 
tad themselves come from the class of the dispossessed. 

Successful manufacturers inade money a great deal of money. 
Many of the men's appeals gave the figures at whidb ribe 

312 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

goods were sold in contrast with their rate of wages, and 
the contrast is startling. So, as the towns grew, the masters left 
the smoke they were creating and bought country places and 
became country gentlemen, preserved their own game and 
judged their own tenants. And thus disappeared yet another 
section of the ancient country folk. For the large landowners 
would seldom sell and the land bought by the new men was 
mostly the land of small farmers and yeomen. This was the age 
of new country houses with a hundred rooms and vast offices 
that housed an army of servants. "Labour was cheap," the de 
scendants of those who built just then will tell you, as they 
gaze disconsolate at their unwieldy heritage. Old and new fam 
ilies alike built or rebuilt, added and improved. 

Cobbett rode rurally and angrily through the ruins of a better 
England (described a century earlier by another horseman, 
Daniel Defoe). Goldsmith mourned an early example in his "De 
serted Village/' but they are the only voices in an abundant lit 
erature. Jane Austen is, indeed, the perfect example of what Ches 
terton always realised the ignorance that was almost innocence 
with which the wealthy had done their work of destruction. He 
did not account them as evil as they would seem by a mere sum 
mary of events. And what he saw at the root of those events was in 
his eyes still present: England was still possessed and still gov- ' 
erned by a minority. The Conservatives were "a minority that 
was rich/' the liberals "a minority that was mad/' And those two 
minorities tended to join together and rob and oppress the ordinary 
man, in the name of some theory of progress and perfection. 

Thus the Protestant Reformation had closed the monasteries, 
which were the poor man's inns, in the name of a purer reli 
gion; the economists had taken away his land and driven him 
into the factories with a promise of future wealth and prosperity. 
These had been the experts of their day. Now the new experts 
were telling him with equal eagerness that hygienic flats and 

The Disillusioned Liberal 313 

communal kitchens would bring about for him the new Jeru 
salem. But never did the expert think of asking Jones, the ordi 
nary man, what he himself wanted. Jones just wanted the 
"divinely ordinary things" a house of his own and a family 
life. And that was still denied him as is rekted in the chapter 
called 'The Homelessness of Jones." 

In a debate in the Oxford Union, G.K. maintained that the 
House of Lords was a menace to the State, because it failed pre 
cisely in what was supposed to be its main function, that of 
conservation. It had not saved, it had destroyed the Church lands 
and the common lands; it was ready to pass any Bill that affected 
only the lower classes. 'We are all Socialists now/' Sir William 
Harcourt had lately said, and Chesterton saw that Socialism 
would mean merely further restriction of liberty and continued 
coercion of the poor by the experts and the rich. So, looking 
at the past, Chesterton desired a restoration which he often 
called a Revolution. There were two forms of government that 
might succeed a real Monarchy, in which one ordinary man 
governed many ordinary men or a real democracy, in which 
many ordinary men governed themselves. Aristocracy may have 
begun well in England when it was an army protecting Eng 
land: when the Duke was a Dux. Now it was merely plutocracy 
and it had become "an army without an enemy billeted on the 
people. 1 ' 

All this and more formed the background of Chesterton's 
mind. But what he wrote was a comment on the scene, not a 
picture of it. He wrote of the terrible irony whereby "the Com 
mons were enclosing the commons." He spoke of the English 
revolution of the eighteenth century, "a revolution of the rich 
against the poor." He mourned with Goldsmith the destruction 
of England's peasantry. He cried aloud like Cobbett, for he too 
had discovered the murder of Engknd his mother. But his cry 
was unintelligible and his hopes of a resurrection unmeaning 
to those who knew not what had been done to death. 

The Eye Witness 

THE PUBLICATION OF What's Wrong With the World brings 
us to 1910. Gilbert had, as we have seen, originally in 
tended to call the book What's Wrong? laying some emphasis 
on the note of interrogation. It amused him to perplex the 
casual visitor by going off to his study with the muttered remark: 
"I must get on with What's Wrong/' The change of name and 
the omission of the note of interrogation (both changes the act 
of his publishers) represented a certain loss, for indeed Gil 
bert was still asking himself what was wrong when he was 
writing this book, although he was very certain what was right 
his ideals were really a clear picture of health. His doubts about 
the achievement of those ideals in the present world and with 
his present political allegiance were, as he suggests in the Auto- 
biography, vague but becoming more definite. 

Did this mean that he ever looked hopefully towards the 
other big division of the English political scene the Tory or 
Conservative party to which his brother had once declared he 
belonged without knowing it? That would be a simpler story 
than what really happened in his mind and I confess that I 
am myself sufficiently vague and doubtful about part of what 
the Chesterbelloc believed they were discovering, to find it a 
little difficult to describe it clearly. Cecil Chesterton and Belloc 
set down their views in a book called The Party System. Gilbert 
made his clear in letters to the Liberal Press. 

The English party system had often enough been attacked 

The Eye Witness 315 

for its obvious defects and indeed the New Witness's even live 
lier contemporary John Bull was shouting for its abolition. But 
Belloc and Cecil Chesterton had their own line. Their general 
thesis was that not only did the people of England not govern, 
Parliament did not govern either. The Cabinet governed and 
it was chosen by the real rulers of the party. For each party 
was run by an oligarchy, and run roughly on the same lines. 
Lists were given of families whose brothers-in-law and cousins 
(though not yet their sisters and their aunts) found place in the 
Ministry of one or other political party. Moreover, the govern 
ing families on both sides were in many cases connected by 
birth or marriage and all belonged to the same social set. But 
money too was useful: men could buy their way in. Each party 
had a fund, and those who could contribute largely had of neces 
sity an influence on party policy. The existent Liberal Gov 
ernment had brought to a totally new peak the art of swelling 
its fund by the sale of titles: which in many instances meant 
the sale of hereditary governing powers, since those higher 
titles which carry with them a seat in the House of Lords were 
sold like the others, at a higher rate naturally. For the rank and 
file member, a political career no longer meant the chance for 
talents and courage to win recognition in an open field, A man 
who believed that his first duty was to represent his constituents 
stood no chance of advancement. Certainly a private member 
could not introduce a bill as his own and get it debated on its 

None of this was new, though the book did it rather excep 
tionally well. What was new was the theory that the two party 
oligarchies were secretly one, that the fights between the parties 
were little more than sham fights. The ordinary party member 
was unaware of this secret conspiracy between the leaciers and 
would obey the call of the party Whip and accept a sort of 
military discipline with the genuine belief that the defeat of 
his party would mean disaster to his country. 

3x6 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Belloc had discovered for himself the impotence of the private 
member. He had, as we have seen, been elected to Parliament 
by South Salford in 1906 as a Liberal. In Parliament he pro 
posed a measure for the publication of the names of subscribers 
to the Party Funds. Naturally enough the proposal got nowhere. 
Also naturally enough the Party Funds were not forthcoming 
to support him at the next election. He fought and won the 
seat as an Independent. At the second election of 1910 he 
declined to stand, having lucidly explained to the House of 
Commons in a final speech that a seat there was of no value 
under the existing system. 

Thus Belloc's own experience, and a thousand other things, 
went to prove the stranglehold the rulers of the party had on the 
party. But did it prove, or did the book establish, the theory of 
a behind-scenes conspiracy between the small groups who con 
trolled each of the great historical parties, which was the theme 
not only of The Party System but also of Belloc's brilliant politi 
cal novels notably Mr. Clutterbucl^s Election and Pongo and 
the Bull! 

Of the stranglehold there was no doubt and Gilbert soon 
found it too much for his own allegiance to the Liberal Party 
or any other. At the election of 1910, he addressed a Liberal 
meeting at Beaconsfield and dealt vigorously with constant Tory 
questions and interjections from the back of the hall He obvi 
ously enjoyed the fight and a little later he spoke for the "League 
of Young Liberals" and was photographed standing at the back 
of their van. But although he went to London to vote for 
John Burns in Battersea and would probably have continued 
to vote Liberal or Labour, he showed at a Women's Suffrage 
meeting in 1911 a growing scepticism about the value of the 
vote. He was reported as saying, "If I voted for John Burns now, 
I should not be voting for anything at all (laughter)/' 
It must have been irritating that this interpolation "laughter*' 

The Eye Witness 317 

was liable to occur when Chesterton was most serious; he did 
not change quickly but in the alteration of his outlook towards 
his party, his growing doubt whether it stood for any real values, 
he was very serious. In the years that followed the coming into 
power of Liberalism there were a multitude of Acts described 
as of little importance and passed into law after little or no 
discussion. At the same time, private members complained that 
they could get no attention for really urgent matters of social 
reform. The Nation, as a party paper, defended the state of 
things and talked of official business and of want of time. Their 
attitude was vigorously attacked by Gilbert, whose first letter 
(Jan. 17, 1911) ended with this paragraph: 

Who ever dreamed of getting "perfect freedom and fulness of 
discussion" except in heaven? The case urged against Cabinets is 
that we have no freedom and no discussion, except that kid down 
despotically by a few men on front benches. Your assurance that 
Parliament is very busy is utterly vain. It is busy on things the 
dictators direct. That small men and small questions get squeezed out 
among big ones, that is a normal disaster. With us, on the contrary, 
it is die big questions that get squeezed out The Party was not 
allowed really to attack the South African War, for fear it shoold 
alienate Mr. Asquith. It was not allowed to object to Mr. Herbert 
Gladstone (or is it Lord Gladstone? This blaze of democracy blinds 
one) when he sought to abolish the Habeas Corpus Act, and leave 
the poorer sort of pickpockets permanently at the caprice of their 
jailers. Parliament is busy on the aristocratic fads; and mankind must 
mark time' with a million stamping feet, while Mr. Herbert Samuel 
searches a gutter-boy for cigarettes. That is what you call the con 
gestion of Parliament. 

The Editor of the Nation was so rash as to append to this 
letter the words, "We must be stupid for we have no idea what 
Mr. Chesterton means/' This was too good an opening to be 
lost. G.K. returned to the charge and I feel that this correspond 
ence is so important in various ways that the next two letters 
should be given in full* 

318 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 


In a note to my last week's letter you remark, "We must be stupid; 
but we have no idea what Mr. Chesterton means/' As an old friend 
I can assure you that you are by no means stupid; some other ex 
planation of this unnatural darkness must be found; and I find it in 
the effect of that official party phraseology which I attack, and which 
I am by no means alone in attacking. If I had talked about "true 
Imperialism/' or "our loyalty to our gallant leader," you might have 
thought you knew what I meant; because I meant nothing. But I 
do mean something; and I do want you to understand what I mean. 
I will, therefore, state it with total dullness, in separate paragraphs; 
and I will number them. 

CO I say a democracy means a State where the citizens first desire 
something and then get it. That is surely simple. 

(2) I say that where this is deflected by the disadvantage of repre 
sentation, it means that the citizens desire a thing and tell the repre 
sentatives to get it. I trust I make myself clear. 

Cs) The representatives, in order to get it at all, must have some 
control over detail; but the design must come from popular desire. 
Have we got that down? 

(4) You, I understand, hold that English M. P.s today do thus 
obey the public in design, varying only in detail. That is a quite 
clear contention. 

(5) I say they don't. Tell me if I am getting too abstruse. 

(6) I say our representatives accept designs and desires almost 
entirely from the Cabinet class above them; and practically not at all 
from the constituents below them. I say the people does not wield 
a Parliament which wields a Cabinet. I say the Cabinet bullies a 
timid Parliament which bullies a bewildered people. Is that plain? 

Cy) If you ask why the people endure and play this game, I say 
they play it as they would play the official games of any despotism 
or aristocracy. The average Englishman puts his cross on a ballot- 
paper as he takes off his hat to the King and would take it off if 
there were no ballot-papers. There is no democracy in the business. 
Is that definite? 

(8) If you ask why we have thus lost democracy, I say from two 
causes; C&) The omnipotence of an unelected body, the Cabinet; 
Cb) the party system, which turns all politics into a game like die 
Boat Race, Is that all right? 

(9) If you want examples I could give you scores. I say the people 

The Eye Witness . 319 

did not cry out that all children whose parents lunch on cheese and 
beer in an inn should be left out in the rain. I say the people did 
not demand that a man's sentence should be settled by his jailers 
instead of by his judges. I say these things came from a rich group, 
not only without any evidence, but really without any pretence, that 
they were popular. I say the people hardly heard of them at the 
polls. But here I do not need to give examples, but merely to say 
what I mean. Surely I have said it now. 


January 26th, 1911. 
Editor's Note. 

Mr. Chesterton is precise enough now, but he is precisely wrong. 
There are grains of truth in his premises, a bushel of exaggeration 
in his conclusions. We have not 'lost democracy"; the two instances 
which he alleges, both of which we dislike, are too small to prove so 
large a case. 

To this G. K. replied: 


I want to thank you for printing my letters, and especially for your 
last important comment, in which you say that the Crimes and 
Children's Acts were bad, but are "too small" to support a charge 
of undemocracy. And I want to ask you one last question, which is 
the question. 

Why do you think of these things as small? They are really 
enormous. One alters the daily habits of millions of people; the 
other destroys the public law of thousands of years. What can be 
more fundamental than food, drink, and children? What can be 
more catastrophic than putting us back in the primal anarchy, in 
which a man was flung into a dungeon and left there "till he lis 
tened to reason?" There has been no such overturn in European 
ethics since Constantine proclaimed the cross. 

Why do you think of these things as anal? I will tell you. Uncon 
sciously, no doubt, but simply and solely because the Front Bendjes 
did not announce them as big. They were not "first-class measures"; 
they were not "full-dress debates," The governing ckss siiot them 
through in the quick, quiet, secondary way in which they pass tfaiuf^ 
that the people positively detests; not in the pompous, lengthy, 
torical way in which they present measures that the people 

320 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

bets on, as it might on a new horse. A "first-class measure" means, 
for instance, tinkering for months at some tottery compromise about 
a Religious Education that doesn't exist. The reason is simple. 
"Sound Church Teaching'' and "Dogmatic Christianity" both hap 
pen to be hobbies in the class from which Cabinets come. But going 
to public-houses and going to prison are both habits with which 
that class is, unfortunately, quite unfamiliar. It is ready, therefore, 
at a stroke of the pen, to bring all folly into the taverns and all 
injustice into the jails. 


February 2nd, 1911. 

It was not only in the Nation that such letters as these ap 
peared. <r We can't write in every paper at once/* runs a letter 
in the New Age. "We do our best." ("We" meant Gilbert, 
Cecil and Hilaire Belloc.) And G.K. goes on to answer four 
questions which have been put by a correspondent signing him 
self, "Political Journalist " 

First, in whose eyes but ours has the Party System lost credit? I 
say in nearly everybody's. If thisnvere a free country, I could mention 
offhand a score of men within a stone's throw; an innkeeper, a 
doctor, a shopkeeper, a lawyer, a civil servant. As it is, I may put it 
this way. In a large debating society I proposed to attack the Party 
System, and for a long time I could not get an opposer. At last, 
I got one. He defended the Party System on the ground that people 
must be bamboozled more or less. 

Second, he asks if the Party System does not govern the country 
to the content of most citizens. I answer that Englishmen are happy 
under the Party System solely and exactly as Romans were happy 
under Nero. That is, not because government was good, but because 
life is good, even without good government. Nero's slaves enjoyed 
Italy, not Nero. Modern Englishmen enjoy England but certainly 
not the British Constitution. The legislation is detested, wherever it 
is even felt. The other day a Cambridge don complained that, when 
out bicycling with his boys, he had to leave them in the rain while 
he drank a glass of cider. Count the whole series of human souls 
between a costermonger and a Cambridge don, and you will see a 
nation in mutiny. 

The Eye Witness 321 

Third, "What substitute, etc., etc." Here again, the answer is 
simple and indeed traditional. I suggest we should do what was 
always suggested in the riddles and revolutions of the recent cen 
turies. In the seventeenth century phrase, I suggest that we should 
'call a free Parliament!" 

Fourth, "Is Democracy compatible with Parliamentary Govern 
ment?" God forbid. Is God compatible with Church Government? 
Why should He be? It is the other things that have to be compatible 
with God. A church can only be a humble effort to utter God. A 
Parliament can only be a humble effort to express Man. But for all 
that, there is a deal of commonsense left in the world, and people 
do know when priests or politicians are honestly trying to express a 
mystery and when they are only taking advantage of an ambiguity. 


Encouraged by the excitement that had attended the publica 
tion of The Party System its authors decided to attempt a news 
paper of their own. This paper is still in existence but it has in 
the course of its history appeared under four different titles. To 
avoid later confusion I had better set these down at the outset* 

The Eye Witness, June i9ii-October 1912, 
The New Witness, November ipiz-May 1923 
G. K/s Weekly, 1925-1936 
The Weekly Review, 1936 till today 

During the first year of its existence The Eye Witness was 
edited by Belloc. Cecil Chesterton took over the editorship after 
a short interregnum during which he was assistant editor* 
Charles Granville had financed it When he went bankrupt the 
title was altered to The New Witness. When Cecil joined the 
Army in 1916, G.K. became Editor. In 1923 the paper died, 
but two years later rose again under the tide, G.K/s Weekly. 
After Gilbert's own death Belloc took it back. Today, as The 
Weekly Review, it is edited by Reginald Jebb, Belloc's son-in- 
law. With all these changes of name, the continuity of the 
paper is unmistakable. Its mam aim may be roughly defined 
under two headings, i. To fight for the liberty of Englislmien 

322 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

against increasing enslavement to a Plutocracy. 2. To expose and 
combat corruption in public life. 

The fight for Liberty appears in the letters quoted above in 
the form of an attack on certain bills: Belloc unified and defined 
it with real genius in the articles which became two of his most 
important books: The Servile State and The Restoration of 
Property. If these two books be set beside Chesterton's What's 
Wrong With the World and The Outline of Sanity the Chester- 
belloc sociology stands complete. 

In his Coltbett, G.K. was later to emphasise tne genius with 
which Cobbett saw the England of today a hundred years 
before it was there to be seen. Belloc in the same way saw both 
what was coming and the way in which it was coming. Espe 
cially far-sighted was his attitude to Lloyd George's Compulsory 
Health Insurance Act. It was the first act of the kind in Eng 
land and the scheme in outline was: every week every employed 
person must have a stamp stuck on a card by his employer, of 
which he paid slightly less and the employer slightly more than 
half the cost. The money thus saved gave the insured person 
free medical treatment and a certain weekly sum during the 
period of illness. Agricultural labourers were omitted from the 
act and a ferment raged on the question of domestic servants, 
who were eventually included in its operation. It was practically 
acknowledged that this was done to make the Act more workable 
financially. For domestic servants were an especially healthy 
class and, moreover, in most upper and middle-class households 
they were already attended by the family doctor without cost 
to themselves. 

The company in which the Eye Witness found itself in op 
posing this Act was indeed a case of "strange bedfellows." For 
the opposition was led by the Conservatives (on the ground that 
the Act was Socialism). Many a mistress and many a maid did 
I hear in those days in good Conservative homes declaring they 
would rather go to prison than "lick Lloyd George s stamps." 

The Eye Witness 32,3 

Most Liberals, on the other hand, regarded the Act as an ex 
ample of enlightened legislation for the benefit of the poor. 
The Eye Witness saw in it the arrival of the Servile State. Their 
main objections cut deep. As with compulsory education, but in 
much more far-reaching fashion, this Act took away the liberty 
and the personal responsibilities of the poor and in doing so 
put them into a category forever ticketed and labelled, sepa 
rated from the other part of the nation. As people for whom 
everything had to be done, they were increasingly at the mercy 
of their employers, of Government Inspectors, of philanthropic 
societies, increasingly slaves. 

What was meant by the Servile State? It was, said Belloc, an 
"arrangement of society in which so considerable a number of 
the families and individuals are constrained by positive law to 
labour for the advantage of other families and individuals as 
to stamp the whole community with the mark of such labour." 
It was, quite simply, the return of slavery as the condition of the 
poor: and the Chesterbelloc did not think, then or ever, that 
any increase of comfort or security was a sufficient good to be 
bought at the price of liberty. 

In a section of the paper called "Lex versus the Poor/* the 
editor made a point of collecting instances of oppression. A 
series of articles attacked the Mentally Deficient Bill whereby 
poor parents could have their children taken from them those 
children who most needed them and whom they often loved and 
clung to above the others, and a Jewish contributor to the paper, 
Dr. Eder, pointed out in admirable letters how divided was the 
medical profession itself on what constituted mental deficiency 
and whether family life was not far more likely to develop the 
mind than segregation with other deficients in. an Institu 

To the official harriers of the poor ware added further inspec 
tors sent by such societies as the National Society for the Pre 
vention of Cruelty to Children. Cruelty to children, as Gflirat 

32,4 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

often pointed out, is a horrible thing, but very seldom proved of 
parents against their own children. The word was stretched to 
cover anything that these inspectors called neglect. Lately we 
have read of a case, and many like it were reported in the New 
Witness, where failure to wash children adequately was called 
cruelty. And what was the remedy? To take away the father, the 
breadwinner, to prison. For insufficient food and clothes to sub 
stitute destitution, for insufficient care to remove the only one 
the children had to care for them at all: always to break up the 

Worst of all was the question of school attendance: While a 
child of three was dying of starvation, the mother was at the 
Police Court where she was fined for not sending an older child 
to school. As she could not pay the fine her husband was sent to 
prison for a week. A child died of consumption. The parents 
said at the inquest they had not dared to keep her at home when 
she got sick, for fear of the school inspector. 

As he had in What's Wrong With the World been fired by 
the thought of the landless poor of England, so now these 
stories stirred Gilbert deeply. He saw the philanthropists like the 
Pharisees, unheeding the wisdom learned by the Wise Men at 
Bethlehem: saw them with their busy pencils peering at the 
Mother's omissions while the vast crimes of the State went un 
challenged. He wrote a poem called "The Neglected Child" and 
"dedicated in a glow of Christian Charity to a philanthropic 

The Teachers in the Temple 
They did not lift their eyes 
For the blazing star on Bethlehem 
Or the Wise Men grown wise. 

They heeded jot and tittle, 
They heeded not a jot 
'Tie rending voice in Ramah 
the children that were not. 

The Eye Witness 325 

Or how the panic of the poor 
Choked all the fields with flight, 
Or how the red sword of the rich 
Ran ravening through the night, 

They made their notes; while naked 
And monstrous and obscene 
A tyrant bathed in all the blood 
Of men that might have been. 

But they did chide Our Lady 
And tax her for this thing, 
That she had lost Him for a time 
And sought Him sorrowing. 

To most of the Eye Witness group the fight for freedom was 
so bound up with the fight against corruption that all was but one 
fight. I think that when they looked back they were too much 
inclined to see the shadow of Lloyd George behind them as well 
as around them: that in fact the Liberal Party of those years 
had brought with it a new descent in political decency a descent 
which would have startled both Gladstone and the more cynical 
Disraeli. Of this more when we come to Marconi. Meanwhile 
there was certainly a whole lot to fight about and the group 
responsible for the Witness, not content with the pen, formed 
a Society entitled "The League for Clean Government," with 
Mr. John Scurr as Secretary. This League specialised in pro 
moting the candidature of independent Members of Parliament 
for such vacancies as occurred between general elections, and 
in attacking Party "Place men." Doubtless other elements were 
present at some of these by-Elections but the League boasted its 
success on several occasions, notably in the three defeats sus 
tained by C. F. G. Masterman. 

Charles Masterman had been with Gilbert and Cecil Chester 
ton a member of the group of young Christian Socialists tliat 
drew its inspiration in great part from Canon Scott-Holland. 
He had gone further than most of them in his practical sym- 

326 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

pathy and understanding for the destitute. With a friend he 
had taken a workman's flat in the slums and he had written a 
somewhat florid but very moving book recording conditions ex 
perienced as well as observed. He was one of the Young Lib 
erals who entered Parliament full of ardour to fight the battles 
of the poor. The sequel as they saw it may best be told by 
Belloc and Cecil Chesterton themselves. In The Party System 
they wrote: 

. . . Mr. Masterman entered Parliament as a Liberal of inde 
pendent views. During his first two years in the House he dis 
tinguished himself as a critic of the Liberal Ministry. He criticised 
their Education Bill. He criticised with especial force the policy of 
Mr. John Burns at the Local Government Board. His conduct at 
tracted the notice of the leaders of the party. He was offered office, 
accepted it, and since then has been silent, except for an occasional 
rhetorical exercise in defence of the Government. One fact will be 
sufficient to emphasise the change. On March i3th, 1908, Mr. 
Masterman voted for the Right to Work Bill of the Labour Party. 
In May of the same year he accepted a place with a salary of 1200 
a year it has since risen to 1500. On April 2oth, 1909, he voted, 
at the bidding of the Party Whips, against the same Bill which he 
had voted for in the previous year. Yet this remarkable example of 
the "peril of change" * does not apparently create any indignation 
or even astonishment in the political world which Mr. Masterman 
adorns. On the contrary, he seems to be generally regarded as a 
politician of exceptionally high ideals. No better instance need be 
recorded of the peculiar atmosphere it is the business of these pages 
to describe. 

At the succeeding General Election, Masterman was not re- 
elected. And he failed again in a couple of by-elections. In all 
these elections, the League for Clean Government campaigned 
fiercely against him. There was certainly in the feeling of Belloc 
and Cecil Chesterton towards Masterman a great deal of the 
bitterness that moved Browning to write, "]ust for a handful of 
silver he left us," and I do not think there is anything in the 

* TEe title of one of Masterman's books was In Peril of Change. 

The Eye Witness 327 

history of the paper that created so strong a feeling against it 
in certain minds. There seemed something peculiarly ungen 
erous in the continued attacks after a series of defeats, in the 
insistence with which Masterman's name was dragged in, always 
accompanied by sneers. Replying to a remonstrance to this ef 
fect, Cecil Chesterton, then Editor of the New Witness, stated 
that in his considered opinion it was a duty to make a success 
ful career impossible to any man convicted of selling his prin 
ciples for success. 

I dwell on this matter of Masterman for two reasons. The 
first is that it was one of the rare occasions on which Gilbert 
Chesterton disagreed with his brother and Belloc. Gilbert was 
a very faithful friend: it would be hard to find a broken friend 
ship in his life. He had moreover much of the power that 
aroused his enthusiasm in Browning of going into the depths of 
a character and discovering the virtue concealed there. And as 
with Browning his explanation took account of elements that 
really existed but could find no place in a more narrowly adverse 

"Many of my own best friends/' he wrote of Masterman, "en 
tirely misunderstood and underrated him. It is true that as he 
rose higher in politics, the veil of the politician began to descend 
a little on him also; but he became a politician from the noblest 
bitterness on behalf of the poor; and what was blamed in him 
was the fault of much more ignoble men. . . . But he was 
also an organiser and liked governing; only his pessimism made 
him think that government had always been bad, and was now 
no worse than usual. Therefore, to men on fire for reform, he 
came to seem an obstacle and an official apologist" After G.K. 
became Editor of the New Witness the attacks on Master 
man ceased, but he did not differ from the two earlier Editors 
in his views on the ethics of political action or the principles 
of social reform. 

The second reason for which the Masterman matter mmst 

328 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

be dwelt on is because it affords the best illustration of one 
curious fact in connection with the Eye and New Witness cam 
paign. When the Life of Master-man recently appeared I seized 
it eagerly that I might read an authoritative defence of his posi 
tion. I searched the Index under Eye Witness, New Witness, 
Cecil Chesterton and League for Clean Government. No one 
of them was mentioned. At last I discovered under Belloc and 
Scurr a faint allusion to their activities at a by-election in which 
Belloc was coupled with the Protestant Alliance leader Kensit 
as part of a contemptible opposition, and the unnamed League 
for Clean Government described as "those working with Mr. 
Scurr"! Clearly where it is possible to use against something 
powerful the weapon of ignoring it as though it were something 
obscure, that weapon is itself a powerful one. Against the New 
Witness it was used perpetually. 

A paper which included among its contributors Hilaire Belloc, 
G. K. Chesterton, J. S. Phillimore, E. C. Bentley, Wells, Shaw, 
Katharine Tynan, Desmond McCarthy, F. Y. Eccles, G. S. 
Street to name only those who come first to mind obviously 
stood high* Cecil Chesterton's own editorials, Hugh O'Don- 
nell's picturesque series Twenty Years After, the high level of 
the reviewing and (oddly enough, considering the paper's out 
look) the financial articles of Raymond Radclyffe, were all 
outstanding. The sales (at sixpence) were never enormous but 
the readers were on a high cultural level. The correspondence 
pages are always interesting. 

The Eye Witness group, besides courage, had high spirits and 
they had wit. "Capulet's" rhymes; the series of Ballades written 
by Baring, Bentley, Phillimore, Belloc and G.K.C.; "Mrs. 
Markham's History'* written by Belloc: there was little of this 
quality in the other weeklies. Side by side with the serious 
attacks was a line of satire and of sheer fooling. The silver deal 
in India was being attacked in the editorials, while Mrs. Mark- 
ham explained to Tommy how good, kind Lord Swaythling, 

The Eye Witness 329 

really a Samuel, had lent money to his brother Mr. Montague 
(another Samuel) for the benefit of the poor people of India. 
The next week Tommy and Rachel grew enthusiastic about the 
kindness of Lord Swaythling in borrowing money that the 
Indian Government could not use. Mrs. Markham too made 
Rachel take a pencil and write out a list of Samuels including 
the Postmaster-General, now so busy over the Marconi Case. 
The next lesson was about titles. Then came one about police 
men, and finally about company promoters and investments. 
How a promoter guesses there is oil somewhere, how money is 
lent to dig for it ("But, Mamma! how can money dig?"), how 
the Company promoter may find no oil, how if they think he 
has cheated them the rich men who lent their money can have 
him tried by twelve good men and true (Tommy: "How do 
they know the men are good and true, Mamma?" Mrs. M.: 
"They do this by taking them in alphabetical order out of 

a list/0- 

Perhaps the combination of irony thinly veiling intensity of 
purpose, with humour sometimes degenerating into wild fool 
ing, damned them in the eyes of many. But there was a more 
serious obstacle to the real effectiveness they might otherwise 
have had. When it was unavoidable to name the New Witness 
its opponents referred to it as though to a "rag*" Why was this 
possible? Principally I think because of the violence of its 
language. Most Parliamentary matters to which it made refer 
ence were spoken of as instances of "f ouT corruption or "dirty" 
business. Transactions by Ministers were said to "stink," while 
the Ministers themselves were described as carrying off or dis 
tributing "swag" and "boodle." In Vol. II of the Eye Witness, for 
instance, we find the "game of boodle," "dirty trick," "Keep your 
eye on the Railway Bill: you are going to be fleeced," and 
"stunt" and "ramp" passim. Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Ruftis 
Isaacs are always called "George" and "Isaacs." The General of 
the Salvation Army is invariably "OH Booth," while in the head- 

330 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

lines the word "Scandal" constantly recurs. Even admirers were 
at times like Fox's followers who 

Groaned "What a passion he was in tonight! 

Men in a passion must he in the wrong 

And heavens how dangerous when they're huilt so strong/' 

Thus the great Whig amid immense applause 

Scared off his clients and hawled down his cause, 

Undid reform by lauding Revolution 

Till cobblers cried "God save the Constitution," 


IN HIS Autobiography Gilbert Chesterton has set down his 
belief that the Marconi Scandal will be seen by historians 
as a landmark in English history. To him personally the revela 
tions produced by it were a great shock and gave the death 
blow to all that still lingered of his belief in the Liberal Party. 
For the rest of his life it may almost be called an obsession with 
him. In his eyes it was so great a landmark that as others spoke 
of events as pre- or post-war, he divided the political history 
of England into pre- and post-Marconi. It meant as much far 
his political outlook as the Enclosures for his social. It is neces 
sary to know what happened in the Marconi Case if we are 
to understand a most important element in Chesterton's mental 
history. * 

The difficulty is to know what did happen. The main lines 
of a very complicated bit of history have never, so far as I know, 
been disentangled by anyone whose only interest was to dis 
entangle them: and the partisans have naturally tangled them 
more. I wrote a draft chapter after reading the two thousand 
page report of the Parliamentary Committee, the six hundred 
page report of Cecil Chesterton's Trial, and masses of contem 
porary journalism. Then, in the circumstances I have related 
in the Introduction, I called in my husband's aid. The rest of 
this chapter is mainly his. 


The Imperial Conference of 1911 had approved the plan of a 
chain of state-owned wireless stations to be erected 

332 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

the British Empire, The Post Office Mr. Herbert Samuel being 
the Postmaster-General was instructed to put the matter in 
hand. After consideration of competing systems, the Marconi 
was chosen. The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. of London 
of which Mr. Godfrey Isaacs was Managing Director was asked 
to tender for the work. Its tender was accepted on March 7, 
1912. The main terms of the tender were as follows: 

The Company was to erect stations in various parts of the 
Empire at a cost to the Government of 60,000 per station; 
these were then to be operated by the Governments of the 
United Kingdom and the Dominions and Colonies concerned; 
and the Marconi Company was to receive 10% of the gross 
receipts. The Agreement was for 28 years, though the Post- 
inaster-General might terminate it at the end of eighteen years. 
But there was one further clause (Clause 10) allowing for ter 
mination at any time if the Government should find it advan 
tageous to use a different system. 

The acceptance of this tender was only the first stage. A con 
tract had to be drawn up, and nothing would be finalised till 
this contract had been accepted by Parliament. In fact the con 
tract was not completed till July 19. On that day it was placed 
on the table of the House of Commons. 

For the understanding of the Marconi Case, the vital period 
is the four, months of 1912 between March 7, when the tender 
was accepted, and July 19 when the contract was tabled. Let us 
concentrate upon that four-month period. The Postmaster- 
General issued no statement whatever on the matter but on 
March 8 the Company sent out a circular to its shareholders 
telling them the good news but making the news look even 
better than it was by omitting all reference to Clause 10, which 
* Entitled the Government to substitute some rival system at any 
time it pleased. The Postmaster-General issued no correction be 
cause, as he said later, he had not been aware of the omission. 

Immediately after, Godfrey Isaacs left for America to con- 

Marconi 333 

sider the affairs of the American Marconi Company, capitalised 
at $1,600,000, of which he was a Director. More than half its 
shares were owned by the English Company. On hehalf of 
the English Company he bought up the rights of the American 
Company's principal rival, and then sold these rights (at a profit 
not stated but apparently very considerable) to the American 
Company for $1,400,000. To handle all this and allow for vast 
developments hoped for from this purchase and from a very 
favourable agreement Godfrey Isaacs had negotiated with West- 
em Union, the American Company was to be reorganized as a 
$10,000,000 Company two million shares at $5 each. The 
American Company whose own repute in America was too low 
for any hope of raising money on that scale from the American 
public seems to have agreed to the Godfrey Isaacs plan only 
on condition that the English Company should guarantee the 
subscription; and Godfrey Isaacs made himself personally re 
sponsible for placing 500,000 shares. (It should be remembered 
that the pound was then worth just under five dollars: a $5 
share was worth 1.1.3, or 1^ in English money.) 

Godfrey Isaacs returned to England. On April 9 he lunched 
with his brothers Harry and Rufus Rufus being Attorney- 
General in the British Government. He told them of the arrange 
ments he had made arrangements which were not yet made 
known to the public and of the new stock about to be issued, 
and offered them 100,000 shares, out of the 500,000 for which 
he had made himself responsible, at the face value of 1.1.3. 
Rufus refused one reason for his refusal being that the shares 
were not a good <( buy/' as the prospects of the Company did not 
warrant so large a new issue of capital. Harry took 50,000. 

We now come to the transactions which the public was later 
to lump together rather crudely as "Ministers Gambling in 

A. On April 17 roughly a week after the luncheon Rufus 
Isaacs bought 10,000 of Harry's shares at 2. He made the point 

334 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

later that buying from Godfrey would have been improper as 
Godfrey was director of a company with which the Government 
was negotiating, but that it was all right to buy from Harry who 
had bought from Godfrey. (Harry having paid only 1.1.3 was 
willing to let Rufus have them for the same price. But Rufus 
thought it only fair to pay the higher price. This is all the more 
remarkable because only a week earlier he had thought these 
same shares bad value at roughly half the price he was now pre 
pared to pay.) Of his 10,000 shares, Rufus immediately sold 
1000 to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, 
and 1000 to the Master of Elibank, who was chief Whip of the 
Liberal Party then in office. It is to be noted that no money 
passed at this time in any of those transactions: Rufus did 
not pay Harry, Lloyd George and Elibank did not pay 

Nor did the shares pass. Indeed the shares did not as yet exist, as 
it was not till the next day, April 18, that the American Marconi 
Company authorised the issue of the new capital. On the day after 
that, April 19, the shares were put on the market at 3.5.0. That 
same day they rose to 4. In the course of the day Rufus Isaacs 
sold 700 shares at an average price of 3.6.6, which on the face 
of it looks like clearing 3000 more than he had paid for all his 
shares and still having 3000 shares left. But he explained later 
that there had been pooling arrangements between himself and 
his brother, and himself and his two friends: so that the upshot 
of his day's transactions was that he had sold 2856 of his own 
shares, and 357 each for Lloyd George and Elibank.* The tri 
umvirate therefore still had 6430 shares of which 1286 belonged 
to Lloyd George and Elibank. 

*Rufus* explanation boils down to this: he and Harry had arranged that 
whatever either sold in the course of the day should he totalled and divided 
5n the proportion of their holdings. Rufus sold 7000 shares, Harry 10,850: a 
total of 17,850. Rufus had taken 1/5 of Harry's 50,000 shares, so one-fifth of 
the shares sold were allotted as his-i.e. 3570. Lloyd George and Elihank had 
each taken i/io o Rufus', therefore each was considered to have sold 357. 

Marconi 335 

On April 20 these two sold a further 1000 of their 1286 shares 
at 3.5/32. 

B. On May 22 Lloyd George and Elibank bought 3000 more 
shares at 2.5/32. As they were not due to deliver the shares 
previously sold by them at 3.6.6 and 3.5/32 till June 20, this 
new purchase had something of the look of a <f bear ' transaction, 

Q In April and May the Master of Elibank bought 3000 
shares for the account of the Liberal Party, of whose funds he 
had -charge. 

These three transactions are all that the three politicians ever 
admitted, and nothing more was ever proved against them. As 
we have seen there was no documentary evidence of the prin 
cipal transaction (the one I have called A), except that Rufus 
sold 7000 shares on April 19. In his acquiring of the shares, no 
broker was employed. Rufus did not pay Harry for the shares 
until January 6, 1913, some nine months later, when the enquiry 
was already on. There was no evidence other than his own word 
that 10,000 was the number he had agreed to take or 2 the 
price that he had agreed to pay, or that he had bought from 
Harry and not from Godfrey, or that of the 7000 shares he had 
certainly sold at a huge profit on April 19 half were sold for 
Harry. There was, indeed, no evidence that the shares were not 
a gift. 

Even on what they admitted, they had obviously acted im 
properly. The contract with the English Marconi Company was 
not yet completed, Parliament had not been informed of its 
terms, Parliament therefore had yet to decide whether it would 
accept or reject it. Three members of Parliament had committed 
two grave improprieties: 

(i) They had purchased shares directly or at one remove 
from the Managing Director of a Company seeking a contract 
from Parliament, in circumstances that were practically equiv 
alent to receiving a gift of money from him. They received 

336 Gilbert Keitk Chesterton 

shares which the general public could not have bought till 
two days later and then only at over 50% more than the poli 
ticians paid.* (On this count, the fact that the shares were 
American Marconis made no difference: the point is that they 
were valuable shares sold to ministers at a special low price. This 
need not have been bribery, but it is a fact that one way of 
bribing a man is to buy something from him at more than it is 
worth, or sell something to him at less than it is worth.) 

(2) They and through the Chief Whip's action the whole 
Liberal Party, though it did not know it were financially inter 
ested in the acceptance by Parliament of the contract. For 
though they had not bought shares in the English Company 
(with which the contract was being made) but with the Amer 
ican Company (which had no direct interest in the contract), 
none the less it would have lowered the value of the American 
shares if the British Parliament had rejected the Marconi Sys 
tem and chosen some other in preference. I may say at once 
that I feel no certainty that the transaction was a sinister effort 
to bribe ministers. But had it been, exactly the right ministers 
were chosen. They were the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who 
has charge of the nation's purse; the Attorney-General, who 
advises upon the legality of actions proposed; the Chief Whip, 
who takes the Party forces into the voting lobby. It was this same 
Chief Whip, the Master of Elibank, that had carried the sale of 
honours to a new height in his devotion to the increase of his 
Party's funds. 


On July 19, 1912, the contract was put on the table of the 
House of Commons. In the ordinary course it would have come 
up for a vote some time before the end of the Parliamentary 

* H. T. Campbell of Bullett, Campbell & Grenf ell, the English Marconi 
Company's official brokers, gave evidence before die Parliamentary Committee 
that it would nave been impossible for the general public to buy the shares 
before April 19, And as we have seen, they opened on that day at ^3.5.0. 

Marconi 337 

Session. But criticism of the contract was growing on the ground 
that it was too favourable to the Marconi Company. And 
rumours were flying that members of the Government had been 
gambling in Marconi shares (which, as we have seen, they had, 
though not in English Marconis). 

Even before the tabling of the contract, members of Parlia 
ment, notably Major Archer-Shee, a Conservative, had been 
harrying Mr. Herbert Samuel, the Postmaster-General. On July 
20, and in weekly articles following, it was attacked as a thor 
oughly bad contract by a writer in the Outlook, Mr. W. R. 
Lawson. On August i, a Labour Member asked a question in 
the House about the rising price of Marconis. The feeling that 
enquiry was needed was so strong that on August 6, the last 
day but one of the session, the Prime Minister (who knew some 
thing of his colleagues' purchase of Marconis but never men 
tioned it) promised the House that the Marconi Agreement 
would not be rushed through without full discussion. In spite of 
this Herbert Samuel * and Elibank both tried hard to get the 
contract approved that day or the next. When it was quite clear 
that Parliament would not allow this, Herbert Samuel insisted 
on making a general statement on the contract. He too knew 
of the Ministers' dealings in American Marconis, but did not 
mention them. There was no debate or division. The question 
of ratification or rejection was postponed till the House shotild 
meet again in October. 

On August 8, Cecil Chesterton's paper the New Witness 
launched its first attack on the whole deal (though without 
reference to Ministerial gambling in Marconis) under the head 
line 'The Marconi Scandal": 

Isaacs' brother is Chairman of the Marconi Company It has there 
fore been secretly arranged between Isaacs and Samuel that the 
British people shall give the Marconi Company a very large sum 

* The argument he put to Major Archer-Shee, MJP. was that the stations 
were urgently needed for Imperial defence. 

338 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

of money through the agency of the said Samuel, and for the benefit 
of the said Isaacs. Incidentally, the monopoly that is about to be 
granted to Isaacs No. 2, through the ardent charity of Isaacs No. i 
and his colleague the Postmaster-General, is a monopoly involving 
antiquated methods, the refusal of competing tenders far cheaper 
and far more efficient, and the saddling of this country with cor 
ruptly purchased goods, which happen to be inferior goods. 

The article went on to say that these "swindles'* were apt to 
occur in any country, but that England alone lacked the will 
to punish them: "it is the lack of even a minimum standard of 
honour urging even honest men to protest against such villainy 
that has brought us where we are." 

In September L. J. Maxse's National Review had a criticism 
of the contract by Major Archer-Shee, M.P., with editorial com 
ment as well. In the same month the Morning Post and the 
Spectator pressed for further enquiry. The October number of 
the National Review contained a searching criticism of the whole 
business and called special attention to the Stock Exchange 
gamble in American Marconis. 

A few days later on October n the re-assembled House of 
Commons held the promised debate. In the light of what we 
know, it is fascinating to read how nobody told a lie exactly 
and the truth was concealed all the same. Here is Sir Rufus 
Isaacs. He begins by formulating the rumours against Mr. 
Herbert Samuel and Mr. Lloyd George and himself. But he is 
careful to formulate them in such a way that he can truthfully 
deny them. The rumours, he says, were that the Ministers had 
dealt in the shares of a Company with which the Government 
was negotiating a contract: "Never from the beginning . . . 
have I had one single transaction with the shares of that Com 

Literally true, as you see. The contract was with the English 
Company, the shares he had bought were in the American Com 
pany. He made no allusion to that purchase. 

Marconi 339 

Mr. Herbert Samuel who is not accused of having purchased 
shares himself tut who knew of what his colleagues had done- 
treads the same careful line: "I say that these stories that mem 
bers of the Cabinet, knowing the contract was in contempla 
tion, and feeling that possibly the price of shares might rise, 
themselves, directly or indirectly bought any of those shares, or 
took any interest in this Company through any other party 
whatever, have not one syllable of truth in them. Neither I 
myself nor any of my colleagues have at any time held one 
shilling's worth of shares in this Company, directly or indirectly, 
or have derived one penny profit from the fluctuations in their 
prices/' However, he promised a Parliamentary Committee to 
enquire into the whole affair. 

Isaacs had denied any transactions with "that Company/* 
Samuel with "this Company/' Neither had ventured to say "the 
English Company" for that would instantly have raised the 
question of the American Company. It is an odd truth that has 
to be phrased so delicately. Lloyd George, the first of the minis 
ters to speak, managed better. He flew into a rage with an inter- 
jector: "The hon. member said something about the Govern 
ment, and he has talked about 'rumours/ I want to know what 
these rumours are. If the hon. gentleman has any charge to 
make against the Government as a whole, or against individual 
members of it, I think it ought to be stated openly. The reason 
why the Government wanted a frank discussion before going to 
Committee* was because we wanted to bring here these 
rumours, these sinister rumours, that have been passing from 
one foul lip to another behind the backs of the House/' He sat 
down, still in a white heat, without having denied any 

The Master of Elibank did not deny anything either. He was 
not there. He was, indeed, no longer in the House of Commons, 
He had inherited the tide of Lord Murray of Elibank. He 

. * Italics mine. 

340 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

had left England in August and did not return till the enquiry 
was over: nor did he send any communication of any sort. 

As we have seen, no literal lie was told. But Parliament and 
the country assumed that the Ministers had denied any gambling 
in Marconis of any sort. And the Ministers must have known 
that this was what their denials had been taken to mean.* 

On October 29 the names were announced of the members 
appointed to the promised Committee of Enquiry. As usual they 
represented the various parties in proportion to their numbers 
in the House. The Liberals were in office, supported by Irish 
Nationalists and Labour Members: 9 members of the Commit 
tee (including the Chairman) were from these parties; 6 were 
Conservatives. One might have expected that the careful eva 
sions in the House would have meant only a brief respite for the 
Ministers who had been so economical of the truth. They would 
appear before the Committee and then the whole thing would 
emerge. But though the Committee was appointed at the end of 
October and met three times most weeks thereafter, five months 
went by and no Minister was called. The plain fact is that Mr. 
Samuel's department, the Post Office, slanted the enquiry in a 
different direction right at the start by putting in evidence a 
confidential Blue Book and suggesting that Sir Alexander King, 
secretary to the Post Office, be heard first. 

On the question of the goodness or badness of the contract 
itself, the Committee uncovered much that was interesting. It 
emerged that the Poulsen System had offered to erect stations at a 
cost of about 36,000 less per station than the Marconi, and that 
the Admiralty itself had estimated a cost, if they were under 
taking the work, about the same as the Poulsen offer. But, by a 

* Rufus Isaacs* son mentions a theory held by some (though he thinks there 
are strong arguments against it) that Rufus' silence was due to instructions 
from the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, who was not anxious to have the con 
nection o Uoyd George with the matter disclosed, "fearing that his personal 
unpopularity would lead to such an exacerbation of die attacks that the prestige 
of the whole Government might be seriously impaired/* (Rwfus Isaacs, first 
Marquess of Reacting, pp. 248-9.) 

Marconi 341 

confusion as to whether their figure did or did not include 
freight charges, the Admiralty estimate had been put down at 
10,000 higher than it was! Nor was this the only confusion. 
When Sir Alexander King spoke of "concessions" made to the 
Government by the Marconi Company, he admitted under 
cross-questioning that there was no written record of these con 
cessions. He spoke of various vitally important conversations 
and was not able to produce a Minute. Letters referred to were 
found to have been lost from the Post Office files. 

Further, it appeared that while most rigid tests were to be 
required of the other systems, the Marconi people had been 
constantly taken almost on their own word alone. "Mr, Isaacs 
and Mr. Marconi both told us/' said Sir Alexander King at one 
point, when asked whether he had had technical advice on a 
point of working. 

"You will excuse me/' said Mr. Harold Smith, "if for the 
moment I ignore the opinion of Mr. Marconi and Mr. Isaacs. I 
ask you who was the expert who gave you this information.** 

Then too as to the terms. The Government had proposed 
3% on the gross takings. Godfrey Isaacs had held out for 
10%, and got it. Moreover, the royalty was to be paid as long 
as a single Marconi patent was in use at the stations. Consider 
ing that by the Patents Act the Government had the legal right 
to take over any invention while paying reasonable compensa 
tion, the provision which gave so high a royalty to the Marconi 
Company was severely criticised. Again the right was given to 
the Marconi Company to advise on any fresh invention that 
should be offered to the Post Office which meant that any in 
vention made by their rivals was entirely at their mercy. 

Naturally enough the question was pressed home whether the 
Post Office had really sought the advice of its own technical 
experts. It transpired that a technical sub-committee had 1>eeo 
called once, and had recommended a further investigation of 
the Poulsen System. The report of this sub-committee tad 

342, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

shelved, and the members never summoned for a second meet 

Early in January 1913, the Parliamentary Committee (against 
the advice of Herbert Samuel) asked for a special sub-committee 
of experts to go into the merits of the various wireless systems 
and report within three months at latest. It is not surprising 
that the New Witness commented on this as "a surrender of the 
most decided type, for it proposes to do what Samuel himself 
clearly ought to have done before he entered into the con 

The report of this technical sub-committee showed that there 
had been a good deal of exaggeration in the first attack by the 
New Witness on the worth of the Marconi System. If one single 
system was to be used, it was the only one capable of carrying 
out the Government's requirements* But the sub-committee held 
that as wireless was in a state of rapid development, it would be 
better not to be tied to any one system. And they added that 
while the nature of the contract itself was not within their terms 
of reference, they must not be held to approve it. 

From its examination of the contract, the Committee passed 
on to examine journalists and others as to the rumours against 
Ministers. And still the Ministers were not called. 

On February 12, 1913, L. J. Maxse, Editor of The National 
Review, was being examined by the Committee. Suddenly he 
put his finger on the precise spot. Having expressed surprise at 
the non-appearance of Ministers, he went on: "One might have 
conceived that they would have appeared at its first sitting 
clamoring to state in the most categorical and emphatic manner 
that neither directly nor indirectly, in their own names or in 
other people's names, have they had any transactions whatso 
ever, either in London, Dublin, New York, Brussels, Amster 
dam, Paris, or any other financial centre, in any shares in any 
Marconi Company throughout the negotiations with the Gov 
ernment. . , /' 

Marconi 343 

"Any shares in any Marconi Company": the direct question 
was at last put. 

On February 14, just two days later, something very curious 
happened. Le Matin, a Paris daily paper, published a story to the 
effect that Mr. Maxse had charged that Samuel, Rufus Isaacs 
and Godfrey Isaacs had bought shares in the English Marconi 
Company at 50 francs (about 2 in those days) before the 
negotiations with the Government were started and had resold 
them at 200 francs (about 8) when the public learnt that the 
contract was going through. It was an extraordinary piece of 
clumsiness for any paper to have printed such a story: certainly 
Mr. Maxse had made no such charge. It was an extraordinary 
stroke of luck, if the Ministers wanted to tell their story in 
Court, that they should have this kind of clumsy libel to deny. 
And it is at least a coincidence that Rufus Isaacs happened, as . 
his son tells us, to be in Paris when Le Matin printed the story. 
Samuel and Rufus Isaacs announced that they would prosecute 
and that Sir Edward Carson and F. E. Smith were their counsel. 
This decision to prosecute a not very important French news 
paper, while taking no such step against papers in their own 
country, caused Gilbert Chesterton to write a "Song of Cos 
mopolitan Courage": * 

I am so swift to seize affronts, 

My spirit is so high, 
Whoever has insulted me 

Some foreigner must die. 

I brought a libel action, 

For the Times had called me "thief," 

Against a paper in Bordeaux, 
A paper called Le Juif. 

The Nation called me "cannibal" 

I could not let it pass 
I got a retractation 

From a journal in Alsace. 
Wftwess, Vd. I, p. 655- 

344 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

And when The Morning Post raked up 

Some murders I'd devised, 
A Polish organ of finance 

At once apologised. 

I know the charges varied much; 

At times, I am afraid 
The Frankfurt Frank withdrew a charge 

The Outlook had not made. 

And what the true injustice 

Of the Standard's words had been> 

Was not correctly altered 

In the Young Turks Magazine. 

I know it sounds confusing- 
Rut as Mr. Lammle said, 

The anger of a gentleman 
Is boiling in my head. 

The hearing of the case against Le Matin came on March 19. 
As that paper had withdrawn and apologised only three days 
after printing the story, there was no actual necessity for state 
ments by Rufus Isaacs and Samuel. But they had decided to 
answer Maxse's question, to admit the dealings in American 
Marconis which they had not mentioned to the House of Com 
mons: or rather to get their lawyer to tell the story and then 
answer his questions on the matter in a Court case where there 
could be no cross-examination because the Defendants were 
not contesting the case. Sir Edward Carson mentioned the 
American purchase at the end of a long speech and almost as 
an afterthoi$ght"really the matter is so removed from the 
charges made in the libel that I only go into it at all ... 
because of the position of the Attorney-General and because he 
wishes in the fullest way to state this deal, so that it may not 
be said that he keeps anything whatsoever back/' As The Times 
remarked (9 June, 1913): "The fact was stated casually, as 
though it had been a matter at once trifling and irrelevant. 

Marconi 345 

Only persons of the most scrupulous honour, who desired that 
nothing whatsoever should remain hid would, it was suggested, 
have thought necessary to mention it at all/* 

The statement was not really as full as Carson's phrasing 
would seem to suggest. The court was told that Rufus Isaacs 
had bought 10,000 shares but not from whom he had bought 
them: that he had paid market price, but not what the price 
was, nor that the shares were not on the market: that he had 
sold 1000 shares each to Lloyd George and Elibank, and had 
sold some on their behalf, but not that these two had had 
further buyings and sellings on their own. It was stated for Sir 
Rufus and reiterated by him that he had lost money on the 
deal the reason being that while he had gained on the shares 
sold, the shares he still held had slumped. (It is difficult to see 
why Rufus Isaacs and later Lloyd George made such a point of 
the loss on their Marconi transactions. They can hardly have 
bought the shares in order to lose money on them, and their 
initial sellings showed a very large profit. Indeed Rufus Isaacs* 
loss depended on his having paid his brother 2, for the shares, 
and again upon the 7000 shares he sold on the opening day 
being only partly on his own behalf, and there is only his own 
word for these two statements. If Rufus lost, he lost to his 
brother, who had been willing to sell at cost price, with whom he 
had a pooling arrangement, and who made an enormous profit, 
If Rufus lost, the loss remained in the family.) 

A week after the hearing of the Matin case, Rufus Isaacs 
appeared for the first time before the Parliamentary Commit 
tee, almost five months after its formation. His problem was not 
so much to explain his dealings in American Marconis, as to 
account for his silence in the House of Commons. His one 
desire that day in Parliament, it seems^ had been to answer the 
"foul lies" being uttered against him, which he was "tjuite 
unable to find any foundation for, quite unable to trace tfae 
source of, quite unable to understand how they ware 

346 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

obviously his dealings in American Marconis could have no 
possible bearing on these rumours, so he did not mention them: 
"I confined my speech entirely , . , to dealing with the four 
specific charges which I formulated" * 

The Chairman, Sir Albert Spicer, suggested that one way to 
scotch the rumours would have been to mention his investment 
in American Marconis, '"because both being Marconis you could 
easily understand one might get confused with the other/' This 
question always drove Rufus Isaacs into a rage and indeed he 
met all difficult questions with rages which to this day, across 
the gulf of thirty years, seem simulated, and not convincingly. 

Why had he not earlier asked the Committee to hear the story 
of the American shares? "I took the view . , . that I had no 
right to claim any preferential position . . . and it seemed to 
me that it might almost savour of presumption if I had asked 
the Committee to take my evidence or any Minister's evidence, 
out of the ordinary turn in which the Committee desired it." 
All the same he had once written a letter to the Committee 
asking to be heard but "on consideration did not send it." 

During his examination the element of strain between 
the two parties on the Committee, which had been evident 
throughout the enquiry, was very much intensified Lord Robert 
Cecil and the Conservatives courteously but tenaciously trying 
to get at the truth, the Ministerialists determined to shield their 
man. There is a most unpleasing contrast between the earlier 
bullying of the journalists (who after all were not on trial) and 
the deference the majority now showed to Ministers (who 

Rufus Isaacs twisted and turned incredibly. But he did admit 
to Lord Robert Cecil that he had obtained the shares before 
they were available to the general public and at a price lower 
than that at which they were afterwards introduced to them. He 
tried later to modify this admission by saying that he had been 

* Italics mine. 

Marconi 347 

told of dealings by others before April 17, but he could give no 
details: and the evidence of the Marconi Company's broker 
(quoted above, page 336 footnote) is decisive. 

Two points of special interest emerged from his evidence. 
The first was that he had not told the whole story in the Matin 
case. He now mentioned that Lloyd George and Elibank had 
sold a further 1000 of the shares he held for them on the second 
day, July 20; and went on to tell of the purchase of 3000 shares 
by the same pair, the so-called *T>ear" transaction of May 22. 
The second was more unpleasing still. He admitted that he had 
told the story of the American Marconis privately to two friends 
on the Committee Messrs. Falconer and Pooth who had kept 
the matter to themselves and had or at least appeared to have- 
continually steered the Committee away from this dangerous 
ground. Rufus Isaacs' son actually says that his father 'Tiad in 
formed Mr. Falconer and Mr. Handel Booth privately of these 
transactions, in order that they might be forearmed when the 
journalists came to give evidence/ 7 * 

On March 28 Lloyd George appeared before the Committee. 
Mrs. Charles Masterman gives an account of Rufus Isaacs 
grooming Lloyd George for the event: 

There was a really very comic, though somewhat alarming, scene 
between Rufus and George on the following Sunday. George had 
to give evidence on the Monday the following day and Rufus dis 
covered that George was still in a perfect fog as to what his transac 
tion really had been, and began talking about "buying a bear/' 
I have never seen Rufus so nearly lose his temper, and George got 
extremely sulky, while Rufus patiently reminded him what he had 
paid, what he still owed, when he had paid it, who to, and what for. 
It was on that occasion also that Charlie and Rufus tried to impress 
upon him with all the force in their power to avoid technical teims 
and to stick as closely as possible to the plainest and most ordinary 
language. As is -well known, George made a great success of Ms 
evidence.^ (Italics mine.) 

* Rufus Isaacs, First Marquess of Readmg, p. 256. 

f C. R G, Masterman, p. 255. 

348 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

I cannot imagine why she thought so. Hugh O'DonnelPs 
description in the New Witness of Isaacs and Lloyd George as 
they appeared before the Committee accords perfectly with the 
impression produced ty a reading of the evidence: 

. . . While the simile of a panther at bay, anxious to escape, but 
ready with tooth and claw, might be applied to Sir Rufus Isaacs, 
something more lite "a rat in a comer" might be suggested by the 
restless, snapping, furious little figure which succeeded. Let us com 
promise by saying that Mr. Lloyd George was singularly like a 
spitting, angry cat, which had got, perhaps, out of serious danger 
from her pursuers, but which caterwauled and spat and swore with 
vigour and venomousness quite surprising in that diminutive bulk. 
"Dastardly," "dishonourable," "disgraceful," "disreputable," "skulk 
ing," "cowardly!" 

Asked why he had not mentioned his Marconi purchases in 
the House of Commons, Lloyd George gave two answers: CO 
'There was no time on a Friday afternoon" (2,) "I could not 
get up and take time when two Ministers had already spoken." 
Why had he not asked to be heard sooner by the Committee? 
He understood that Sir Rufus had expressed the willingness of 
all the accused Ministers to be heard. Like Sir Rufus, Lloyd 
George mentioned that he had lost money on his Marconi 

The obstruction within the Committee continued to the end. 
The question had arisen whether Godfrey had had the right to 
sell the shares at his own price or for his own profit. He had 
sold a considerable number of shares to relations and friends at 
r.i,3, whereas shares were sold to the general public at 3.5.0. 
Others of his shares he sold on the Stock Exchange at varying 
prices, all high. But were the shares his? Or did they belong to 
the English Company? If they were his he was entitled to sacri 
fice vast profits on some by selling at cost to his relations, and 
to take solid profits on others by selling at what he could get in 
the open market. But if he was simply selling as an agent of the 

Marconi 349 

Company, he had no right to make so fantastic a present of one 
lot of shares and was bound to hand over to the Company profits 
made on the others. 

He told the Committee that the 500,000 shares had been sold 
to him outright but that he had passed on 46,000 of profits to 
the Company. He said that a record of this sale of 500,000 
shares to him would be found in the minutes of the English 
Company. The books of the Company were inspected and it 
was found that no such minute existed. Lord Robert Cecil 
naturally wished to recall Godfrey Isaacs to explain the dis 
crepancy between his statements and the records. The usual 8 
to 6 majority decided that there was no need to recall Godfrey. 
It looked rather as if the shares Godfrey had sold to Harry and 
Harry to Rufus at such favourable prices belonged to and 
should have been sold for the profit of the Company. 

On May 7 the Committee concluded its hearings and its 
members were marshalling their ideas for the Report. But there 
was one fact for them and the public still to learn. Early in June 
they were re-called to hear about it. A London stockbroker had 
absconded: a trustee was appointed to handle his affairs and it 
was discovered that the fleeing stockbroker had acted for the 
still absent Elibank, had indeed bought American Marconis for 
him a total of 3000: and as it later appeared, these had been 
bought for the funds of the Liberal Party. The comment of 
The Times (June 9, 1913) on "the totally unnecessary diffi 
culty which has been placed in the way of getting at the truth" 
seems moderate enough. 


Meanwhile the New Witness had not been neglecting its 
self-appointed task of striking at every point that looked vulner 
able. On January 9, 1913, an article appeared attacking the c&y 
record of Mr, Godfrey Isaacs and listing the bankrupt com 
paniesthere were some twenty of them of which lie liad been 

350 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

promoter or director. Some more ardent spirit in the New 
Witness office sent sandwichmen to parade up and down in front 
of Godfrey Isaacs' own office bearing a placard announcing his 
"Ghastly Failures." Cecil Chesterton said later that he had not 
ordered this to be done, but he refused to disclaim responsibility. 
The placard was the last straw. Godfrey's solicitors wrote to 
Cecil saying that Godfrey would prosecute unless Cecil prom 
ised to make no further statement reflecting on his honour till 
both had given evidence before the Parliamentary Committee. 
Cecil replied: "I am pleased to hear that your client, Mr. God 
frey Isaacs, proposes to bring an action against me/' And in the 
New Witness (February 2,7, 1913) he wrote: 'We are up 
against a very big thing. . . . You cannot have the honour 
(and the fun) of attacking wealthy and powerfully entrenched 
interests without the cost. We have counted the cost; we 
counted it long ago. We think it good enough much more than 
good enough." 

The case came on at the Old Bailey on May 2,7. It is worth 
recalling the exact position at this time. The Parliamentary 
Committee had concluded its hearings three weeks earlier and 
was now preparing its report. (Cecil Chesterton had not given 
evidence before it, for though he had frequently demanded to 
be summoned, when at last the summons came he excused him 
self on the plea of ill-health and the further plea that he wished 
to reserve his evidence for his own trial.) The Matin case had 
been heard a couple of months earlier. Everything that was ever 
to be known about ministerial dealings in Marconis was by now 
known, except for Elibank's separate purchase on behalf of the 
Party Funds, which was made public just at the end of the trial. 

Sir Edward Carson and F. E. Smith were again teamed, as in 
the Matin case. The charge was criminal libel. Cecil insisted on 
facing the charge alone. His various contributors had joined in 
the attack but Cecil would not give the names of the authors 
of unsigned articles and took full responsibility as Editor. 

Marconi 351 

Carson's opening speech for the Prosecution divided the six 
alleged libels under two main heads: One set, said Carson, 
charged Godfrey Isaacs with being a corrupt man who induced 
his corrupt brother to use his influence with the corrupt Samuel 
to get a corrupt contract entered into. The opening attack under 
this head has already been quoted.* Later attacks did not 
diminish in violence: "the swindle or rather theft impudent 
and barefaced as it is": "when Samuel was caught with his hand 
in the till (or Isaacs if you prefer to put it that way)." 

The second set charged that Godfrey Isaacs had had transac 
tions with various companies which, had the Attorney-General 
not been his brother, would have got him prosecuted. There is 
the same violence here: "This is not the first time in the Marconi 
affair that we find these two gentlemen [Godfrey and Rufus] 
swindling": and again: "The files at Somerset House of the 
Isaacs companies cry out for vengeance on the man who created 
them, who manipulated them, who filled them with his own 
creatures, who worked them solely for his own ends, and who 
sought to get rid of some of them when they had served his 
purpose by casting the expense of burial on to the public purse." 

There is no need to describe the case in detail. On the charges 
concerned with the contract and ministerial corruption, the 
same witnesses (with the notable exception of Lloyd George) 
gave much the same evidence as before the Parliamentary Com 
mittee. Very little that was new emerged. The contract looked 
worse than ever after Cecil Chesterton's Counsel, Ernest Wild, 
had examined witnesses, but Mr. Justice Phillimore insisted 
that it had nothing to do with the case "whether the contract 
was badly drawn or improvident" 

But indeed all this discussion of the contract was given an 
air of unreality by the extraordinary line the Chesterton Def ence 
took. It distinguished between the two sets of charges, offering 
to justify the second (concerning Godfrey Isaacs' business 

* See supra, pp. 337-8- 

3J2 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

record) but claiming that the first set brought accusation of cor 
ruption not against Godfrey but against Rufus and Herbert 
Samuel who were not the prosecutors. It was an impossible 
position to say that Ministers were fraudulently giving a fraud 
ulent contract to Godfrey Isaacs but that this did not mean that 
he was in the fraud. Cecil showed up unhappily under cross- 
examination on this matter, but from the point of view of his 
whole campaign worse was to follow: for Cecil withdrew the 
charges of corruption he had levelled at the Ministers! 

Here are extracts from the relevant sections of the cross- 
examination by Sir Edward Carson: 

Carson: And do you now accuse him [Godfrey Isaacs] of any 
abominable business I mean in relation to obtaining the contract? 

Cecil Chesterton: Yes, certainly; I now accuse Mr. Isaacs of very 
abominable conduct between. March 7 and July 19. 

Carson: Do you accuse the Postmaster General of dishonesty or 
corruption? ^ 

C. Chesterton: What I accused the Postmaster General of was of 
having given a contract which was a byword for laxity and thereby 
laying himself open reasonably to the suspicion that he was con 
ferring a favour on Mr. Godfrey Isaacs because he was the Attomey- 
GeneraFs brother. 

Carson: I must repeat my question, do you accuse the Postmaster- 
General of anything dishonest or dishonourable? 

C. Chesterton: After the Postmaster-General's denials on oath I 
must leave the question; I will not accuse him of perjury. 

Carson: And therefore you do not accuse him of anything dis 
honest or dishonourable? 


Judge: That is evasion. Do you or do you not accuse him? 
C. Chesterton: I have said "No." 


C Chesterton: My idea at that time was that Sir Rufus Isaacs 
had influenced Mr. Samuel to benefit Godfrey Isaacs. 

Marconi 353 

Carson: You have not that opinion now? 

C. Chesterton: Sir Rufus has denied it on, oath and I accepted 
his denial. 

Cecil still insisted that though the Ministers had not been 
corrupted, what had come to light about Godfrey's offer of 
American Marconi shares to his brother showed that Godfrey 
had tried to corrupt them. Godfrey could not have enjoyed the 
case very much. There was much emphasis on his concealment 
of Clause 10 (allowing the Government to terminate at any 
time): and Sir Alexander King, secretary to the Post Office, 
admitted that Godfrey Isaacs had asked that it be kept quiet: 
but this was not among the accusations Cecil had levelled at 
him. In his summing up, Mr. Justice Phillimore indicated the 
possibility that the shares Godfrey had so gaily sold belonged not 
to himself but to the English Marconi Company merely add 
ing that this question was not relevant to the present case. 
Further the record of his company failures was rather ghastly. 

Here is a section of his cross-examination as to the companies 
he had been connected with before the Marconi Company- 
remember that there were twenty of them! 

Wild: I am trying to discover a success. 

Judge: It is not an imputation against a man that he has been a 

Wild: Here are cases after cases of failure. 

Isaacs: That is my misfortune. 

Judge: You might as well cross-examine any speculative widow. 

Wild: A speculative widow would not be concerned in the man 

* * * 

Wild: Can you point to one success except Marconi in the wfaofe 
of your career? 

Isaacs: In companies? 
WM: Yes, 

354 Gilbert Keitk Chesterton 

Isaacs: A complete success, no; I should not call any one of them 
a complete success, but I may say that each of them was an 
endeavour to develop something new. 

But Carson had made the point in his opening speech that 
though Godfrey Isaacs had been connected with so many fail 
ures, he had not been accused by the shareholders of anything 
dishonourable: in his closing speech he pointed out that "not 
one single City man had been brought forward to say that he 
had been deceived to the extent of one sixpence by the repre 
sentations of Mr. Isaacs." And indeed the evidence called by 
the Defence in this present case, however suspicious it may 
have made some of his actions appear, did not establish beyond 
doubt any actual illegality. 

The trial ended on June 9. Tfie Judge summed up heavily 
against Cecil Chesterton. The jury was out only forty minutes. 
The verdict was "Guilty/' Cecil Chesterton, says the Times, 
"smiled and waved his hand to friends and relations who sat 
beside the dock/* The Judge preached him a solemn little homily 
and then imposed a fine of 100 and costs. The Chestertons 
and all who stood with them held that so mild a fine instead of 
a prison sentence for one who had been found guilty of criminal 
libel on so large a scale was in itself a moral victory. "It is a 
great relief to us/' ran the first Editorial in the New Witness 
after the conclusion of the trial, "to have our hands free. We 
have long desired to re-state our whole case about the Marconi 
disgrace, in view of the facts that are now before us and the 
English people. . * * When we began our attack . . . we were 
striking at something very powerful and very dangerous . . . 
we were striking at it in the dark. The politicians saw to that. 
Our defence is that if we had not ventured to strike in the dark, 
we and the people of England should be in the dark still/' 

There can be no question of Cecil Chesterton's courage. But 
he may have exaggerated a little in saying that if the New 

Marconi 355 

Witness had not struck in the dark the nation would still be in 
the dark: Parliament had already refused to approve the con 
tract without proper discussion and the Outlook was attacking 
vigorously, before the first New Witness attack. And there are 
grave drawbacks to the making of charges in the dark which 
later have to be withdrawn. Cecil's withdrawal of his charges 
against the Ministers and his failure to substantiate his charges 
against Godfrey's company record may have done more to 
hinder than help the cause of clean government. But his cour 
age remains: and, if one has to choose, one prefers the immod 
erate man who said more than he knew to the careful men who 
said so much less, Gilbert giving evidence at the trial had said 
that he envied his brother the dignity of his present position. 
And with the Isaacs brothers in mind, one sees the point. 


Four days after the verdict against Cecil Chesterton, the Par 
liamentary Committee produced its report. There had been a 
draft report somewhat critical of the Marconi-buying Ministers 
by the Chairman, Sir Albert Spicer; and another considerably 
more critical by Lord Robert Cecil. Lord Robert's report said that 
Rufus Isaacs had committed "grave impropriety in making an 
advantageous purchase of shares . , . upon advice and informa 
tion not yet fully available to the public. ... By doing so he 
placed himself, however unwittingly, in a position in which his 
private interests or sense of obligation might easily have been in 
conflict with his public duty. . . ." Of his silence in the House, 
Lord Robert said: "We regard that reticence as a grave error of 
judgment and as wanting in frankness and in respect for the 
House of Commons." 

Upon this Rufus Isaacs' son comments: "The vehemence of 
this language was not calculated to commend the draft to the 
majority of the Committee," Vehemence seems hardly the word; 

356 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

but at any rate the Committee did not adopt either Lord 
Robert's report or Sir Albert Spicer's. 

By the usual party vote of 8 to 6, it adopted a report pre 
pared by Mr. Falconer (one of the two whom Rufus Isaacs had 
approached privately) which simply took the line that the Min 
isters had acted in good faith and refrained from criticising 

Parliament debated the matter a few days later on a Con 
servative motion: "That this House regrets the transactions of 
certain of its Ministers in the shares of the Marconi Company 
of America, and the want of frankness displayed by Ministers in 
their communications on the subject to the House/' Rufus 
Isaacs* son speaks of the certain ruin of his fathers career if 
"by some unpredictable misadventure" the motion had been 
carried. It would indeed have had to be an "unpredictable mis 
adventure'* for the voting was on the strictest party lines: which 
means that the House did not express its real opinion at all: 
the motion was defeated by 346 to 268. Lloyd George and 
Rufus Isaacs expressed regret for any indiscretion there might 
have been in their actions: Rufus explained that he would not 
have bought the shares "if I had thought that men could be so 
suspicious of any action of mine/' In the debate the Leader of 
the Opposition, Arthur Balfour, somewhat disdainfully refused 
to make political capital out of the business. Lloyd George and 
Isaacs were loudly cheered by their own Party though whether 
they were cheered for having bought American Marconis or for 
having concealed the purchase from the House there is now no 
means of discovering. At any rate their careers were not dam 
aged: the one went on to become Lord Chief Justice of Eng 
land and later Viceroy of India: the other became Prime Min 
ister during the war of 1914-1918. 

One question arising from the episode is whether it meant 
what Cecil Chesterton and Belloc thought it meant in the world 

Marconi 357 

of party politics, or something entirely different. They seem 
throughout to have assumed that their thesis of collusion be 
tween the Party Leaders was proved by this scandal: it seems 
to me quite as easy to make the case that it was disproved. 

A Conservative first raises the matter by inconvenient ques 
tions in the House. A group of young Conservatives pay the 
costs of Cecil Chesterton's defence. When a Parliamentary 
Committee is appointed to enquire into the alleged corruption, 
the story of every session becomes one of a Conservative 
minority trying hard to ferret out the truth and a ministerial 
majority determined to prevent their succeeding. Finally the 
leading Conservative Commissioner, Lord Robert Cecil, issues 
a restrained but most damning report which is, as a matter of 
course, rejected by the Liberal majority. 

A Conservative M.P. told me he thought the great mis 
take made was that it had all been made "too much of a party 
question." Unless you already disbelieved quite violently in the 
existence of the two parties this would certainly be the effect 
upon you of reading the report of the Commission Sessions, 
and all that can be set against it is the fact that Mr. Balfour did, 
in the House of Commons, utter a conventional form of words 
which, as has been said, really amounted to a refusal to mate 
political capital out of the affair. 

I do not say, for I do not pretend to know, if this is the cor 
rect interpretation: it is certainly the obvious one. 

Douglas Jerrold in a brilliant article on Belloc,* treats kis 
theory of the Party System as a false one, and maintains that he 
mistook for collusion that degree of co-operation that alone could 
enable a country to be governed at all under a party system. 
A certain continuity must be preserved if, in the old phrase, 
"The King's Government is to be carried on" but such con 
tinuity did- not spell a corrupt collusion. If at this distance f 

* "Hilaire BeBoc and die Counter Revolution" in For H&re Be&oc. 

358 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

time such a view can be held by a man of Mr. Jerrold's ability 
it could certainly be held at the time by the majority and it 
may be that the continual assumption of an unproved fact got 
in the way in the fight against more obvious evil. 

For bound up with this question is another: The Eye Witness 
seemed so near success and yet never quite succeeded. Might 
it have done so had it been founded with a single eye to creative 
opportunity to the attack on the Servile State and the building 
of some small beginning of an alternative? G.K/s Weekly was 
a slight improvement from that point of view for it did create 
the Distributist League; but both papers, I think, had from their 
inception a divided purpose that made failure almost inevita 

The fight against corruption which had been placed equal 
with the fight for property and liberty at the start of the Eye 
Witness is a noble aim. But, like the other, it is a life work. 
To do it a man must have time to spend verifying rumours or 
exploding them, following up clues, patiently waiting on events. 
I began to read the files with an assumption of the accuracy of 
the claims of the Eye and New Witness as to its own achieve 
ment in all this, but when the dates and facts in the Marconi 
case had been tabulated for me chronologically I began to won 
der. Again and again the editor stated that The New Witness 
had been first to unearth the Marconi matter. But it hadn't. 
As we have seen, questions in the House and attacks in other 
papers had preceded their first mention of the subject. 

So too the statement that the Marconi affair had proved how 
little Englishmen cared about corruption seemed almost absurd 
when one read not only the Conservative but also the Liberal 
comment of the time. "Political corruption is the Achilles heel 
of liberalism/' said an outstanding Liberal Editor; while Hugh 
OTDonnell in the New Witness paraphrased the wail of the 
"Cadbury" papers: 

Marconi 359 

Tis the voice of the Cocoa 
I hear it exclaim 
O Geordie, dear Geordie 
Don't do it again. 

Just how scandalous was the Marconi scandal? At this dis 
tance of time it is difficult to arrive at any clear view. There are 
two main problems the contract and the purchase of American 

The contract seems very definitely to have been unduly 
favourable to the Company; clauses were so badly drawn that 
they had to be supplemented by letters which had no legal 
effect; documents were lost, other tenders misinterpreted, other 
systems perhaps not fully examined, the report of a sub-commit 
tee shelved, Godfrey Isaacs allowed to issue a misleading report 
without correction from the Post Office. It all may spell cor 
ruption: but it need not. No one familiar with the workings of 
a Government department is likely to be surprised at any 
amount of muddle and incompetence. Matters are forgotten 
and then in the effort to make up for lost time important steps 
are simply omitted. Officials are pig-headed and unreasonable. 
And as to lost documents 

What of the ministers' dealings in shares? Godfrey may have 
been using Rufus to purchase ministerial favour. If so, he could 
hardly have done so on the comparatively small scale of the 
dealings known to us. The few thousand involved could not 
have meant an enormous amount to Rufus. He had, it is true, 
begun his career on the Stock Exchange, found himself insol 
vent and been '"hammered." But he had gone on to make large 
sums at the Bar up to thirty thousand pounds a year; and his 
salary as Attorney-General was twenty thousand a year. 

There may, of course, have been far heavier purchases than 
we know about: the piece-by-piece emergence of what we do 
know gives us no confidence that all the pieces ever emerged. 

360 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

We have only the word of the two brothers for most of the 
story and one comes to feel that their word has no great mean 
ing* But, allowing for all that, it is possible that Godfrey may 
have wanted Rufus to have the American shares out of family 
affection: of the shares Godfrey personally disposed of, a very 
large number went to relations and close friends mother, sisters, 
his wife's relationswho certainly could not help to get his 
contract through Parliament. If this, the most charitable inter 
pretation, is also the true one, Rufus and his political friends 
acted with considerable impropriety in snatching at this oppor 
tunity of quick and easy money. The rest of the story is of their 
efforts to prevent this impropriety being discovered. Had they 
mentioned it openly in Parliament on October n, the matter 
might have ended there. But they lacked the nerve: the occa 
sion passed: and nothing remained, especially for Rufus, but 
evasion, shiftiness, half-truth passing as whole trutli, the farce 
of indignant virtue a performance which left him not a shred 
of dignity and ought to have made it unthinkable that he should 
ever again be given public office. The perfect word on the 
whole episode was uttered, not by either Gilbert or Cecil 
Chesterton or by any of their friends, but by Rudyard Kipling. 
The case had meant a great deal to him. On June 15, a Conserv 
ative neighbour of Kipling wrote to Gilbert: 

I cannot let the days pass without writing to congratulate you and 
your brother on the result of the Isaacs Trial. ... I do feel, as 
many thousands of English people must feel, that the New Witness 
is fighting on the side of English Nationalism and that is our com 
mon battle. My neighbour, Rudyard Kipling, has followed every 
phase of the fight with interest of such a kind that it almost pre 
cluded his thinking of anything else at all and when he gets hold of 
the New Witness (my copy) I never can get it back again. You see, 
however much we have all disagreed do disagree we are all in the 
same boat about a lot of things of the first rank. . . . We can't 
afford to differ just now if we do agree it's all too serious. 

Marconi 361 

When Isaacs was appointed Viceroy of India, Kipling wrote 
the poem: 


Whence comest thou, Gehazi 

So reverend to behold 
In scarlet and in ermine 

And chain of England's gold? 
From following after Naaman 

To tell him all is well* 
Whereby my zeal has made me 

A judge in Israel. 

Well done, well done, Gehazi, 

Stretch forth thy ready hand, 
Thou barely 'scaped from Judgment, 

Take oath to judge the land. 
Unswayed by 'gift of money 

Or privy bribe more base, 
Or knowledge which is profit 

In any market place. 

Search out and probe, Gehazi, 

As thou of all canst try 
The truthful, well-weighed answer 

That tells the blacker lie: 
The loud, uneasy virtue, 

The anger feigned at will, 
To overbear a witness 

And make the court keep still. 

Take order now, Gehazi, 

That no man talk aside 
In secret with the judges 

The while his case is tried, 
Lest he should show them reason, 

To keep the matter hid, 
And subtly lead the questions 

Away from what he did. 

362 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Thou mirror of uprightness, 

What ails thee at thy vows, 
What means the risen whiteness 

Of skin between thy brows? 
The boils that shine and burrow, 

The sores that slough and bleed 
The leprosy of Naaman 

On thee and all thy seed? 

Stand up, stand up, Gehazi, 

Draw close thy robe and go 
Gehazi, judge in Israel. 

A leper white as snow! 

As the Times leading article of June 19, 1913, put it: "A man 
is not blamed for being splashed with mud. He is commiserated. 
But if he Las stepped into a puddle which he might easily have 
avoided, we say that it is his own fault. If he protests that he 
did not know it was a puddle, we say that he ought to know 
better; but if he says that it was after all quite a clean puddle, 
then we judge him deficient in the sense of cleanliness. And the 
British public like their public men to have a very nice sense of 

That, fundamentally, was what troubled Gilbert Chesterton 
then and for the rest of his life. He was not himself an investi 
gator of political scandals in that field he trusted his brother 
and Belloc, and on this particular matter Cecil had certainly 
said more than he knew and possibly more than was true. But 
it did not take an expert to know that some of the men involved 
in the Marconi Case had no very nice sense of cleanliness: and 
these men were going to be dominant in the councils of Eng 
land, and to represent England in the face of the world, for a 
long time to come. 

The Eve of the War (iQll-lQIS) 

DURING THE EARLIER YEARS of the New Witness Gilbert 
had nothing to do with the editing, and his contribu 
tions to it were only part of the continuing volume of his weekly 
journalism. It would be almost impossible to trace all the articles 
in papers and magazines that were never republished: the vol 
umes of essays appearing year by year probably contained the 
best among them. He was still in 1911 writing for the Daily 
News and every week until his death he continued to do "Our 
Notebook" for the Illustrated London News. I have found an 
unpublished Ballade he wrote on the subject: 


In icy circles by the Behring Strait, 

In moony jungles where the tigers roar, 

In tropic isles where civil servants wait, 

And wonder what the deuce they're waiting for, 

In lonely lighthouses beyond the Nore, 

In English country houses crammed with Jews, 

Men still will study, spell, perpend and pore 

And read the Illustrated London News. 

Our fathers read it at the earlier date 

And twirled the funny whiskers that they wore 

Ere little Levy got his first estate 

Or Madame Patti got her first encore. 

While yet the cannon of the Christian tore 

The lords of Delhi in their golden shoes 

Men asked for all the news from Singapore 

And read the Illustrated London News. 

364 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

But I, whose copy is extremely late 

And ought to have been sent an hour before 

I still sit here and trifle with my fate 

And idly write another ballad more. 

I know it is too late; and all is o'er, 

And all my writings they will now refuse 

I shall be sacked next Monday. So be sure 

And read the Illustrated London News. 


Prince, if in church the sermon seems a bore 
Put up your feet upon the other pews, 
Light a Fabrica de Tabagos Flor 
And read the Illustrated London News. 

Debating and lecturing went on, and an amusing letter from 
Bernard Shaw shows the preparations for a Three Star Show- 
Shaw against Chesterton with Belloc in the chair in 1911. An 
exactly similar debate years later was published in a slender 
volume entitled Do We Agree? On both occasions the crowd 
was enormous and many had to be turned away. All three men 
were immensely popular figures and all three were at their best 
debating in a hall of moderate size where swift repartee could 
be followed by the whole audience. 

Gilbert always shone on these occasions. The challenge of a 
debate brought forth all his powers of wit and humour. His 
opponent furnished material on which he could work. And how 
he enjoyed himself! Frank Swinnerton once heard him laugh 
so much that he gave himself hiccups for the rest of the evening. 
I heard him against Miss Cicely Hamilton and against Mr. Sel 
fridge and felt the only drawback to be that the fight was so very 
unequal. The Selfridge debate in particular was sheer cruelty, so 
utterly unaware was the business man that he was being intellec 
tually massacred by a man who regarded all that Selfridge's stores 
stood for as the ruin of England. Occasionally Mr. Selfridge 
looked bewildered when the audience rocked with laughter at 

The Eve of the War * 365 

some phrase that clearly conveyed no meaning to him at all. 
But so complete was his failure to understand what it was all 
about that when the meeting was over he asked if Chesterton 
would not write his name with a diamond on a window of his 
store already graced with many great names. For once Chester 
ton was at a loss for words. "Oh, how jolly!" he murmured 

Very different was it when he debated with Bernard Shaw 
with Belloc as third performer. 

Ayot St. Lawrence, Welwyn, Herts. 
2,7th Oct. 1911. 

Don't be dismayed: this doesn't need a reply. 

With reference to this silly debate of ours, what you have to bear 
in mind is this. 

I am prepared to accept any conditions. If they seem unfair to 
me from the front of the house, all the better for me; therefore do 
not give me that advantage unless you wish to, or are as you prob 
ably are as indifferent to the rules as I am. 

The old Hyndman-Bradlaugh & Shaw-Foote debates (S-F. was a 
two-nighter) were arranged thus. Each debater made 3 speeches: 
i of 30 minutes, i of 15 and i of 10. Strict time was kept (the audi 
ences were intensely jealous of the least departure from the rules); 
and the chairman simply explained the conditions and called Time 
without touching the subject of debate. 

The advantages of this were, (a) that the opponent or the opener 
could introduce fresh matter up to the end of his second speech, 
and was tied up in that respect for the last 10 minutes only, and 
(b) that the debate was one against one, and not one against two 
Cand with less time allowed for him at that), as it must have been 
had the chairman dealt with the subject. 

The disadvantages for us are that we both want Belloc to let 
himself go (I simply thirst for the blood of his Servile State Ffl 
servile him); and nobody wants to tie you down to matter previ 
ously introduced when you make your final reply. We shall ^al 
three talk all over the shop possibly never reaching the Socialism 
department-and Belloc wifl not trouble himself about tie irfes of 

366 . Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

public meeting and debate, even if there were any reason to suppose 
that he is acquainted with them. (Do you recollect how Parnell and 
Biggar floored the House in the palmy days of obstruction by meanly 
getting up the subject of public order, which no one else suspected 
the existence of?) 

I therefore conclude that we had better make it to some extent a 
clowns' cricket match, and go ahead as in the debates with Sanders 
& Macdonald & Cicely Hamilton, which were all wrong technically. 
In a really hostile debate it is better to be as strict as possible; but 
as this is going to be a performance in which three Macs who are 
on the friendliest terms in private will belabor each other recklessly 
on wooden scalps and pillowed waistcoats and trouser seats, we need 
not be particular. 

Still, you had better know exactly what you are doing: hence this 
wildly hurried scrawl. 

Did you see my letter in Tuesday's Times? Magnificent! 

My love to Mrs. Chesterton, and my most distinguished consid 
eration to Winkle.* To hell with the Pope! 



P.S. I told Sanders to explain to you that you would be entitled 
to half the gate (or a third if Belloc shares) and that you were likely 
to overlook this if you were not warned. I take it that you have 
settled this somehow. 

At the second of these debates Belloc opened the proceedings 
by announcing to the audience "You are about to listen, I am 
about to sneer/' His only contribution to the debate was to 
recite a poem: 

Our civilisation 

Is built upon coal 

Let us chant in rotation 

Our civilisation 

That lump of damnation 

Without any soul 

Our civilisation 

Is built upon coal. 

* The Chestertons* dog who preceded Quoodle of tKe poem. 

The Eve of the War 367 

Bernard Shaw was on the friendliest terms with the others 
and admired their genius tut thought it ill directed. Belloc, he 
had told Chesterton, was "wasting prodigious gifts" in the serv 
ice of the Pope. 

"I have not met G.K.C.: Shaw always calls him a man of 
colossal genius" writes Lawrence of Arabia to a friend. 

As a lecturer Chesterton's success was less certain than as a 
debater. Many of his greatest admirers say they have heard 
him give very poor lectures. He was often nervous and worried 
beforehand. "As a lecture/' wrote the Yorkshire Weekly Post 
after a performance in this year (191 1), "it was a fiasco, but as 
an exhibition of Chesterton it was pleasing." Although his 
writing appeared almost effortless he did in fact take far more 
pains about it than he did in preparing for a lecture. He seemed 
quite incapable of remembering the time or place of appoint 
ment, or of getting there on time, if at all Stories are told of 
his non-appearance on various platforms. My husband remem 
bers a meeting in a London theatre at which Chesterton had 
been billed as one of the speakers. The meeting, arranged by 
the Knights of the Blessed Sacrament, was well under way 
before he arrived, panting but unperturbed. His apology ran 
something like this: "As knights you will understand my not 
being here at the beginning, for the whole point of knighthood 
was that the knight should arrive late but not too late. Had St. 
George not been late there would have been no stary. Had he 
been too late, there would have been no princess.** 

Even more annoying was his habit of beginning his lecture 
by saying he had not prepared iL Such a remark Is BO likely ID 
please any audience, least of all an audience that has paid fee 
admission and knows that the lecturer is receiving a large lee. 
But money, whether he was receiving it or giving it away, meaaat 
nothing to him. He had not a strong voice, and I have seen hwn, 
when a microphone was provided, holding a paper of notes be 
tween himself and it. An ardent admirer of his writing foU me 

368 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

he made far too many jokes about his size. Yet how pleasing they 
sometimes were: when his Chairman for instance, after a long 
wait, said lie had feared a traffic accident: "Had I met a tram- 
car/' Chesterton replied, "it would have been a great, and if I 
may say so, an equal encounter." 

He thought badly of his own lecturing and began once by 
saying: "I might call myself a lecturer; but then again I fear 
some of you may have attended my lectures/' 

Actually, in spite of the jokes, his thoughts were centred 
entirely on his subject, not on himself. An anonymous So 
ciety Diarist quoted by Cosmo Hamilton writes of an occasion 
when: "he was given, rather foolishly, a little gold period chair 
and as he made his points it slowly collapsed under him. He rose 
just in time and sinking into another chair that someone put 
behind him began at the word he had last spoken. No acting 
could have secured such an effect of complete indifference. It 
was evident that he had barely noticed the incident." 

Ellis Roberts completes the picture. He knew Gilbert already 
as a brilliant talker and came to hear him from a platform: 

"I remember the manner of his lecture. It seemed to be 
written on a hundred pieces of variously shaped paper, written 
in ink and pencil (of all colours) and in chalk. All the pages 
were in a splendid and startling disorder and I remember being 
at first a little disappointed. Then the papers were abandoned 
andGXC. talked."* 

At this time Bernard Shaw scored a victory over his friend. 
For beside lecturing, journalism and the publication of three 
considerable and two minor books, Chesterton between 1911 
and the War wrote the play that Shaw had been so insistently 
demanding. The books were: Manalive 1911, A Miscellany of 
Men (Essays) 1912, The Victorian Age in Literature February 
1913, The Wisdom of Father Brown 1914, The Flying Inn 

* Readmg for Pleasure, p. 96. 

The Eve of the War 369 

1914. The play was Magic produced at the Little Theatre in 
October 1913. One who admired it was George Moore. He 
wrote to Forster Bovill (November 24, 1913): 

I followed the comedy of Magic from the first line to the last with 
interest and appreciation, and I am not exaggerating when I say 
that I think of all modern plays I like it the best. Mr. Chesterton 
wished to express an idea and his construction and his dialogue are 
the best that he could have chosen for the expression of that idea; 
therefore, I look upon the play as practically perfect. The Prologue 
seems unnecessary, likewise the magician's love for the young lady. 
That she should love the magician is well enough, but it material 
ises him a little too much if he returns that love. I would have pre 
ferred her to love him more and he to love her less. But this spot, 
if it be a spot, is a very small one on a spodess surface of excellence. 

I hope I can rely upon you to tell Mr. Chesterton how much I 
appreciated his Play as I should like him to know my artistic sym 

"Artistic sympathies" is not ungenerous considering how 
Chesterton had written of George Moore in Heretics. 

It is rather comic that all the reviews hailing from Germany 
where the play was very soon produced compare Chesterton 
with Shaw and many of them say that he is the better play 
wright "He means more to it," a Munich paper was translated 
as saying, "than the good old Shaw/' Chesterton's superiority 
can hardly be entertained in the matter of technique. Actually 
what the critic meant was that he preferred the ideas of Chester 
ton to the ideas of Shaw. Both men were chiefly concerned with 
ideas. But while Shaw excelled chiefly in presenting than 
through brilliant dialogue, G.K/s deeper thoughts were con 
veyed in another fashion. The Duke might almost, it is true, 
have been a Shaw character, but the fun the audience got out 
of him was the least thing they received. Chesterton once said 
that he suspected Shaw of being the only man who had never 
written any poetry. Many of us suspect that Chesterton never 
wrote anything else. This play is a poem and the greatest char- 

370 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

acter in it is atmosphere. Chesterton believed in the love of 
God and man, he believed in the devil: love conquers diabolical 
evil and the atmosphere of this struggle is felt even in the 
written page and was felt more vividly in the theatre. After a 
passage of many years those who saw it remember the moment 
when the red lamp turned blue as a felt experience. 

But as to popularity, in England at least, it would be absurd 
to compare G.K. with G.B.S. The play's run was a brief one 
and it was years before he attempted another. 

^Chesterton was fighting corruption, fighting the Servile State. 
Above all things he was fighting sterility, fighting it in the 
name of life life with its richness, its variety, its sins and its 
virtues, with its positively outrageous sanity. "Thank you for 
being alive/' wrote an admirer to him. 

Manalive is above all things a hymn to life. It is the acid test 
of a Chestertonian. Reviewers became wildly enthusiastic or 
bitterly scornful. Borrowing from his own phrase about Pick 
wick I am inclined to say that men not in love with life will not 
appreciate Manalive nor, I should imagine, heaven. The ideas 
that make up the book had been long in his head. The story 
of White Wynd written while he was at the Slade School tells 
one half of the story, an unpublished fragment of the same 
period entitled "The Burden of Balham" the other half. The 
Great Wind that blows Innocent Smith to Beacon House is the 
wind of life and it blows through the whole story. Before an 
improvised Court of Law Smith is tried on three charges: house- 
Breaking but it was his own house that he broke into to renew 
the vividness of ownership; bigamy but it was his own wife 
with whom he repeatedly eloped to renew the ecstasy of first 
love; murder with a large and terrifying revolver but he dealt 
life not death from its barrel. For he used it only to threaten 
those who said they were tired of life or that life was not worth. 

The Eve of the War 371 

living, and he forced them through fear of death to hymn the 
praises of life. 

The explanation given by Smith to- Dr. Eames, the Master of 
Brakespeare College, of his ideas and his purpose gives the note 
of fooling and profundity filling the whole book. 

(< I want both my gifts to come virgin and violent, the death and 
the life after death. I am going to hold a pisto! to the Head of the 
Modem Man. But I shall not use it to kill him only to bring him 
to life, I begin to see a new meaning in being the skeleton at the 

"You can scarcely be called a skeleton/' said Dr. Eames smiling. 

"That comes of being so much at the feast," answered the massive 
youth. "No skeleton can keep his figure if he is always dining out. 
But that is not quite what I meant: what I mean is that I caught 
a kind of glimpse of the meaning of death and all that the skull 
and the crossbones, the Memento* Mori. It isn't only meant to remind 
us of a future life, but to remind us of a present life too. With our 
weak spirits we should grow old in Eternity if we were not kept 
young by death. Providence has to cut immortality into lengths for 
us, as nurses cut the bread and butter into fingers,** 

Manalive appeared in 1911. Next year came what is perhaps 
his best-known single piece of writing, The Ballad of Lepanto. 
In the spring of 1912, he had taken part in a debate at Leeds, 
affirming that all wars were religious wars. Father O'Connor 
supported him with a magnificent description of the battle of 
Lepanto. Obviously it seized Gilbert's mind powerfully, for 
while he was still staying with Father O'Connor, he had begun 
to jot down lines and by October of that year the poem was 
published. One might fill a book with the tributes it has re 
ceived from that day to this. Perhaps none pleased him. nxne 
than a note from John Buchan (June 21, 1915): "The other 
day in the trenches we shouted your Lepanfca" 

The Victorian Age in Literature made many of his admirers 
again express the wish that he would stay in the field of pine 

372 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

literature. His characterisations of some of the Victorian writers 
were sheer delight. 

Ruskin had a strong right hand that wrote of the great mediaeval 
Minsters in tall harmonies and traceries as splendid as their own; 
and also, so to speak, a weak and feverish left hand that was always 
fidgeting and trying to take the pen away and write an evangelical 
tract about the immorality of foreigners ... it is not quite unfair 
to say of him that he seemed to want all parts of the Cathedral 
except the altar. 

Tennyson was a provincial Virgil ... he tried to have the uni 
versal balance of all the ideas at which the great Roman had aimed: 
but he hadn't got hold of all the ideas to balance. Hence his work 
was not a balance of truths, like the universe. It was a balance of 
whims; like the British Constitution ... he could not think up 
to the height of his own towering style. 

. . . While Emily Bronte was as unsociable as a storm at mid 
night and while Charlotte Bronte was at best like that warmer and 
more domestic thing a house on fire they do connect themselves 
with the calm of George Eliot, as the forerunners of many later 
developments of the feminine advance. Many forerunners Of it 
comes to that) would have felt rather ill if they had seen the things 
they foreran. 

The best and most profound part of the boolc was however 
the working out of certain generalisations the effect on the 
literature of the period of the Victorian compromise between 
religion and rationalism ("Macaulay, it is said, never talked 
about his religion: but Huxley was always talking about the 
religion he hadn't got") : the break-up of the compromise when 
Victorian Protestantism and Victorian rationalism simultaneously 
destroyed one another; the uniqueness of the nonsense-writing 
of the later Victorian period. 

In one illuminating passage Chesterton defends what seems 
at first sight merely his own habit of getting dates and events 
iii their wrong order. 

The Eve of the War 373 

The mind moves by instincts, associations, premonitions and not 
by fixed dates, or completed processes. Action and reaction will occur 
simultaneously: or the cause actually be found after the effect. 
Errors will be resisted before they have been properly promulgated: 
notions will be first defined long after they are dead . . . thus 
Wordsworth shrank back into Toryism, as it were, from a Shelleyan 
extreme of pantheism as yet disembodied. Thus Newman took down 
the iron sword of dogma to parry a blow not yet delivered, that 
was coming from the club of Darwin. For this reason no one can 
understand tradition or even history who has not some tenderness 
for anachronism. 

This was not merely special pleading: it contains a profound 
truth. Wilfrid Ward proved it of Newman in the biography that 
G.K. had probably just been reading. Chesterton noted it him 
self in his book on Cobbett who, as he said, saw what was not 
yet there. It is almost the definition of genius. Already at this 
date Chesterton and Belloc were fighting much that to the rest 
of us only became fully apparent long afterwards. 

"I think you would make a very good God," wrote E. V. 
Lucas to Chesterton. There is indeed something divine in an 
almost ceaseless outpouring of creative energy. But only God 
can create tirelessly and Chesterton was at this time beginning 
to be tired. You can see it in The Flying Inn. The book is still 
full of vitality and the lyrics in it, later published separately 
tinder the title Wine, Water and Song, are as good in that land 
as any that he ever wrote. But with all its vigour the book Is a 
less joyful one than Manalive and it is a much more angry one. 
Manative was a paean of joy to life. The Flying Inn is fighting 
for something necessary to its fulnessfreedom. 

It must Lave been just while he was writing it that there were 
threatenings of a case against Kim by Lever Brothers on account 
of a lecture given at the City Temple on The Snot as Socialist." 
In answering a question he spoke of Port Sunlight as "corre 
sponding to a Slave Compound." Others besides Lever Brotbeis 
were shocked and some clarification was certainly called for. 

374 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Belloc and Chesterton meant by Slavery not that the poor were 
being bullied or ill treated but that they had lost their liberty. 
Gilbert went so far as to point out how much there was to be 
said in defence of a Slave state. Under Slavery the poor were 
usually fed, clothed and housed adequately. Slaves had often 
been much more comfortable in the past than were free men in 
the world of today. A model employer might by his regulations 
greatly increase the comfort of his workers and yet enslave them. 
A letter from Bernard Shaw advising him to get up certain 
details asks the question of whether the workman at Port Sun 
light would forfeit his benefits and savings should he leave. "If 
this is so/* wrote Shaw, "then, though Lever may treat him as 
well as Pickwick would no doubt have treated old Weller, if he 
had consented to take charge of his savings, Lever is master of 
his employee's fate, and captain of his employee's soul, which 
is slavery/' He went on to offer financial help in fighting the 
case. The "Christian Commonweal" had reported Chesterton's 
speech and was also threatened with the law. To the editor G. K 

Only a hasty line to elongate the telephone. I am sorry about this 
business for one reason only; and that is that you should be even 
indirectly mixed up in it. Lever can sue me till he bursts: I'm not 
afraid of him. But it does seem a shame when I've often attacked 
you (always in good faith and what was meant for good humour), 
and when youVe heaped coals of fire by printing my most provoca 
tive words, that your chivalry should get you -even bothered about 
it I am truly sorry and ask pardon of you, but not of old Sun and 
Soapsuds, I can tell you. 

Another very hasty line about the way I shall, if necessary, answer; 
about which I feel pretty confident. I should say it is absurd to 
have libel actions about Controversies, instead of about quarrels. 
It would mean every Capitalist being prosecuted for saying that 
Socialism is robbery and every Socialist for saying property is theft. 
By great luck, the example lies at the threshold of the passage 
quoted. The worst I said of Port Sunlight was that it was a slave- 
compound Why, that was the very phrase about which half the 

The Eve of the War 375 

governing class argued with the other half a few years ago! Are all 
who called the Chinese slaves to be sued by all who didn't? Am I 
prosecuted for a Terminology . . . enough, you know the rest. Go 
on with the passage and you will see the luck continues. Abrupt, 
brief, and perhaps abbreviated as my platform answer was, it really 
does contain all the safeguards against imputing cruelty or human 
crime to poor Lever. It defines slavery as the imposition of the 
master's private morality; as in the matter of the pubs. It expressly 
suggests it does not imply cruelty: for it goes out of its way to say 
that such slaves may be better off under such slavery. So they were, 
physically, both in Athens and Carolina. It then says that a merely 
mystical thing, which I think is Christianity, makes me think this 
slavery damnable, even if it is comfortable. I would defend all this, 
as a lawful sociological comment, in any Court in civilisation. 

I tell you my line of defence, to use discreetly and at your dis 
cretion. If the other side are bant on fighting, I should reserve the 
defence. If they seem open to reason, I should point out that it is 
on our side. 

His old schoolfellow Salter was also his solicitor and a letter 
to Wells shows in part the advice Salter gave. 


I am asked to make a suggestion to you that looks like, and 
indeed is, infernal impudence: but which a further examination will 
rob of most of its terrors. Let not these terrors be redoubled when 
I say that the request comes from my solicitor. It is a great lark; I 
arn writing for him when he ought to be writing for me. 

In the forthcoming case of Lever v. Chesterton & Another, the 
Defendant Chesterton will conduct his own case; as his heart is not, 
like that of the lady in the song, Another's. He wants to fight it 
purely as a point of the liberty of letters and public speech; and to 
show that the phrase "slavery" (wherein I am brought in question) 
is current in the educated controversy about the tendency erf Capi 
talism today. The solicitor, rather to my surprise, approves this gea- 
eral sociological line of defence; and says that I may be allowed cue 
or two witnesses of weight and sociological standing not (of course) 
to say my words are defensible, still less that my view is rigjht i>n 
simply to say that the Servile State, and servile terms in 
with it, are known to them as parts of a current and quite 

376 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

cious controversy. He has suggested your name: and when I have 
written this I have done my duty to him. You could not, by the 
laws of evidence, be asked to mix yourself up with my remarks on 
Lever: you could only be asked, if at all, whether there was or was 
not a disinterested school of sociology holding that Capitalism is 
close to Slavery quite apart from anybody. Do you care to come and 
see the fun? 

Yours always, 


The suggested line was so successful that Wells's testimony 
was not called for. The case was withdrawn. No apology was 
even asked from Gilbert, whose solicitor tells me that Messrs. 
Lever '"behaved very reasonably when once it was made clear to 
them that Gilbert was not a scurrilous person making a. vulgar 
and slanderous attack upon their business/' 

With H. G. Wells as with Shaw, Gilbert's relations were ex 
ceedingly cordial, but with a cordiality occasionally threatened 
by explosions from Wells. Gilbert's soft answer however invari 
ably turned away wrath and all was well again. "No one/' Wells 
said to me, "ever had enmity for him except some literary men 
who did not know him." They met first, Wells thinks, at the 
Hubert Elands, and then Gilbert stayed with Wells at Easton. 
There they played at the non-existent game of Gype and in 
vented elaborate rules for it. Cecil came too and they played 
the War game Wells had invented. "Cecil," says Wells, com 
paring him with Gilbert, "seemed condensed: not quite big 
enough for a real Chesterton." 

They built too a toy theatre at Easton and among other 
things dramatized the minority report of the Poor Law Commis 
sion. The play began by the Commissioners taking to pieces 
Bumble the Beadle, putting him into a huge cauldron and stew 
ing him. Then out from the cauldron leaped a renewed rejuve 
nated Bumble several sizes larger than when he went in. 

In the early days of their acquaintance Wells remembers 
meeting the whole Chesterton family in the street of a French 

The Eve of the War 377 

town and inviting them to lunch. His own youngest son, a 
small boy, had left the room for a moment when Wells ex 
claimed: 'Where's Frank? Good God, Gilbert, you're sitting 
on him/' 

The anxious way in which Gilbert got up and turned apolo 
getically towards his own chair was unforgettable. An absent- 
minded man who in a gesture of politeness once gave his seat 
to three ladies in a bus might well be alarmed over the fate of a 
small boy found under him. 

In his memoirs Wells relates another pleasing story of a 
Chestertonian encounter: 

I once saw [Henry] James quarrelling with his brother William 
James, the psychologist. He had lost his calm; he was terribly un 
nerved. He appealed to me, to me of all people, to adjudicate on 
what was and what was not permissible in England. William was 
arguing about it in an indisputably American accent, with an in 
decently naked reasonableness. I had come to Rye with a car to 
fetch William James and his daughter to my home at Sandgate. 
William had none of Henry's passionate regard for the polish upon 
the surface of life and he was immensely excited by the fact that 
in the little Rye inn, which had its garden just over the high brick 
wall of the garden of Lamb House, G. K. Chesterton was staying. 
William James had corresponded with our vast contemporary and 
he sorely wanted to see him. So with a scandalous directness he had 
put the gardener's ladder against that ripe red wall and ckmbeied 
up and peeped over! 

Henry had caught him at it. It was the sort of thing that isn't 
done. It was most emphatically the sort of thing that isn't dooe. 
. . . Henry instructed the gardener to put away that ladder and 
WilHam was looking thoroughly naughty about it. 

To Henry's manifest relief, I carried William off and in the load 
just outside the town we ran against the Chestertons who had been 
for a drive in Romney Marsh; Chesterton was heated and I think 
rather swollen by the sunshine; he seemed to overhang his one- 
horse fly; he descended slowly but firmly; he was moist and sleamy 
but cordial; we chatted in the road and William got his 

378 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

The two must have suited each other a good deal better than 
Chesterton and the more conventional brother. Of Henry's reac 
tions there was a comment from the other side of the Atlantic. 

The Louisville Post reported that Henry James, being asked on 
a visit to his native country, 'What do you think of Chesterton 
in England?" replied "In England we do not think of Chester 
ton/' The Past commented rather neatly "This 'we* of our com 
patriot must be considered as either mythical or editorial unless 
indeed it refers to that small and exquisite circle which imme 
diately surrounds and envelopes him." In his Autobiography 
Gilbert is appreciative but amusing, describing Henry James's 
reactions to the arrival of Belloc from a walking tour unbrushed, 
unwashed and unshaven. After reading Dickens, William wrote 
from Cambridge, Mass.: 

O, Chesterton, but you're a darling! IVe just read your Dickens- 
it's as good as Rabelais. Thanks! 

Wells, askea to debate with Gilbert, wrote to Frances: 

Spade House, Sandgate. 

God forbid that I should seem a pig [here a small pig is drawn] 
and indeed I am not and of all the joys in life nothing would 
delight me more than a controversy with G.K.C., whom indeed I 
adore. [Here is drawn a tiny Wells adoring a vast Chesterton.] 

.But I Lave been recklessly promising all and everyone who asks 
ine to lecture or debate; *Tf ever I do so again it will be for you," 
and if once I break the vow I took last year 

Also we are really quite in agreement. It's a mere difference in 
fundamental theory which doesn't really matter a rap except for 
after dinner purposes. 

Yours ever, 


Ranees thought Wells was good for Gilbert, he tells me, 
because he took him out walking, but when the two men were 

The Eve of the War 379 

alone Gilbert would say supplicatingly 'We won't go for a walk 
today, will we?" "He thought it terrifying/' said Wells, "the way 
my wife tidied up." Frances, too, tidied up, but cautiously. "She 
prevented G.K.," says Wells, "from becoming too physically 
gross. He ought not to have been allowed to use the word 
'jolly* more than forty rimes a day." 

He could not, Wells thought, have gone on living in a Lon 
don which was that of ordinary social life, whether Mayfair or 
Bloomsbury. "Either the country or Dr. Johnson's London." And 
of the relation seen by Chesterton between liberty and con 
viviality he said, "Every time he lifted a glass of wine he lifted 
it against Cadbury." 

In spite of growing restrictions as to sales and hours the Inn 
still remained for Chesterton a symbol of freedom in a world 
increasingly enslaved. It was pointed out to him how great a 
peril lay in drink, how homes were broken up and families 
destroyed through drunkenness. After the war began, a letter 
from one of his readers stressed a real danger: 

Now I do beg you, Mr. Chesterton, much as you love writing in 
praise of drink, to give it a rest during the war. , . . You may have 
the degradation of any number of ally boys to your account with 
out knowing it. . . . 

I have written with a freedom you will say perhaps rudeness 
which a casual meeting with you, and a great admiration for your 
work by no means justifies, but which other things perhaps da I 
beg you to forgive me. 

It seems to me that this charge he never quite answered. To 
claim liberty is erne thing, to hymn the glories of wine is quite 
another. And when he was attacked for the latter he always 
def aided the former, saying that he did not deny the peril bet 
that all freedom meant peril peril must be preferred to slavery. 
There were things in which a man must be free to choose 
if his choice be evil. This was a part of Chesterton's 
philosophy about drink a subject on which he wrote coostaify . 

380 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

It is interesting to note the stages of its development in his 


The Chesterton family had not a Puritan tradition in the 
sense of being teetotal. But Lucian Oldershaw tells me that in 
their boyhood 'he always felt G.K. himself to be a bit of a 
Puritan and I have come upon a boyish poem that seems to con 
firm this in the matter of wine. 


Raised high on tripod, flashing bright, the Holy Silver Urn 
Within whose inmost cavern dark, the secret waters bum 
Before the temple's gateway the subject tea-cups bow 
And pass it steaming with thy gift, thy brown autumnal glow. 
Within thy silver fortress, the tea-leaf treasure piled 
O'er which the fiery fountain pours its waters undefiled 
Till the witch-water steals away the essence they enfold 
And dashes from the yawning spout a torrent-arch of gold. 
Then fill an honest cup my lads and quaff the draught amain 
And lay the earthen goblet down, and fill it yet again 
Nor heed the curses on the cup that rise from Folly's school 
The sneering of the drunkard and the warning of the fool. 

Leave to the Stuart's cavalier the revel's blood-red wine 
To hiccup out a tyrant's health and swear his Right Divine 
Mine, Cromwell's * cup to stir within, the spirit cool and sure 
To face another Star Chamber, a second Marston Moor. 
Leave to the genius-scorner, the sot's soul-slaying urns 
That stained the fame of Addison, and wrecked the life of Burns 
For Etty's hand his private Pot, that for no waiter waits f 
For Cowper's lips his "Cup that cheers but not inebriates." 

Goal of Infantine Hope, Unknown, mystic Felicity 
Sangrad of childish quest much sought, aethereal "Real Tea" 
Thy faintest tint of yellow on the milk and water pale 
Like Midas* stain on Pactolus, gives joy that cannot fail. 

* GromwelPs teapot "was among the first used in England. 

f Etty, the artist made his own tea in all hotels in a private pot. 

The Eve of the War 381 

Childhood's "May I have real tea" had grown into the tea- 
table of the Junior Debating CIul>, and Lucian Oldershaw 
remembers Gilbert as a young man still lunching at tea shops. 
I found recently two versions of a fragment of a story called 
"The Human Club," written when he was at the Slade School. 
The second version opens: 

A meal was spread on the table, for the members of the Human 
Club were, as their name implies, human, however glorified and 
transformed: the meal, however, consisted principally of tea and 
coffee, for the Humans were total abstainers, not with the virulent 
assertion of a negative formula, but as an enlightened ratification 
of a profound social effort Chear, hear), not as the meaningless 
idolatry Ccheers) of an isolated nostrum (renewed cheers), but as a 
chivalrous sacrifice for the triumph of a civic morality (prolonged 
cheers and uproar). 

The aims of the Human Club were many but among the more 
practical and immediate was the entire perfection of everything. 

"Perfection is impossible/' said the host, Eric Peterson, bowing 
his colossal proportions over the coffee-pot. He was in the habit of 
showing these abrupt rifts of his train of thought, like gigantic frag 
ments of a frieze. But he said then quite simply, with no change 
in his bleak blue eyes, ""Perfection is impossible, thank -God. The 
impossible is the eternal." 

We are a long way from tea the "Oriental," cocoa the "vulgar 
beast/' and wine the true festivity of man that we find in Wine, 
Water and. Song. Chesterton had meanwhile discovered the 
wine-drinking peasants of France and Italy: he had discovered 
what were left |f the old-fashioned inns of England where cider 
or beer are dnirik by the sort of Englishmen he had come to love 
best the poor^ln his revolt against that dreary and pretentious 
element that he most hated in the middle classes he had come to 
feel that the life of the poor, as they themselves had shaped it 
when they were free men, was the ideal. And that ideal inducted 
moderate drinking, drinking to express joy in life and to in 
crease it. 

382, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Already in Heretics (1904) he had in the essay called "Omar 
and the Sacred Vine" attacked the evil of pessimistic drinking. 
A man should never drink because he is miserable, he will be 
wise to avoid drink as a medicine for, health being a normal 
thing, he will tend in search of it to drink too much. But no man 
expects pleasure all the time, so if he drinks for pleasure the 
danger of excess is less. 

The sound rule in the matter would appear to be like many other 
rules a paradox. Drink because you are happy, but never because 
you are miserable. Never drink when you are wretched without it, or 
you will be like the grey-faced gin-drinker in the slum; but drink 
when you would be happy without it, and you will be like the 
laughing peasants of Italy. Never drink because you need it, for this 
is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink 
because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the 
ancient health of the world.* 

But the human will must be brought into action and the gifts 
of God must be taken with the thanksgiving that is restraint. 
"We must thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking 
too much of them." The topic seemed to fascinate him: he 
returned to it again and again. In one essay he described himself 
opening all the windows in a private bar to get rid of the air of 
secrecy that he hated. Wine should be taken, not secretly but 

Frankly and in fellowship 
As men in inns do dine. 

Cocktails he abominated and in fact strong spirits were 
almost as evil as wine and beer were good. In an essay "The 
Cowardice of Cocktails" f he is especially scathing in his com 
ment on those who urge "that they give a man an appetite, for 
his meals.** 

This is unworthy of a generation that is always claiming to be 
candid and courageous. In the second aspect, it is utterly unworthy 

* Heretics. John Lane, chapter VII, p. 103. 

f From SoJe&gte on New? London & Newer York, p. 45. 

The Eve of the War 383 

of a generation that claims to keep itself fit by tennis and golf and 
all sorts of athletics. What are these athletes worth if, after all their 
athletics, they cannot scratch up such a thing as a natural appetite? 
Most of my own work is, I will not venture to say, literary, but at 
least sedentary. I never do anything except walk about and throw 
clubs and javelins in the garden. But I never require anything to 
give me an appetite for a meal. I never yet needed a tot of rum 
to help me to go over the top and face the mortal perils of luncheon. 
Quite rationally considered, there has been a decline and degrada 
tion in these things. First came the old drinking days which are 
always described as much more healthy. In those days men worked 
or played, hunted or herded or ploughed or fished, or even, in their 
rude way, wrote or spoke, if only expressing the simple minds of 
Socrates or Shakespeare, and then got reasonably drunk in the eve 
ning when their work was done. We find the first step of the 
degradation, when men, do not drink when their work is done, but 
drink in order to do their work. Workmen used to wait in queues 
outside the factories of forty years ago, to drink nips of neat whisky 
to enable them to face life in the progressive and scientific factory. 
But at least it may be admitted that life in the factory was some 
thing that it took some courage to face. These men felt they had 
to take an anaesthetic before they could face pain. What are we 
to say of those who have to take an anaesthetic before they can 
face pleasure? What of those, who when faced with the terrors of 
mayonnaise eggs or sardines, can only utter a faint cry for brandy? 
What of those who have to be drugged, maddened, inspired and 
intoxicated to the point i3F ^partaking of meals, like the Assassins to 
the point of committing murders? If, as they say, the use of the drug 
means the increase of the dose, where will it stop, and at what pie- 
cise point of frenzy and delusion will a healthy grown-up man be 
ready to rush headlong upon a cutlet or make a dash for death or 
glory at a ham-sandwich 1 ? This is obviously the most abject stage 
of all; worse than that of the man who drinks for the sake of work, 
and much worse than that of the man who drinks for the sake of 

Wine, Chesterton maintained, should not be drunk as an ail 
to creative production, yet one may find that increased pcwer dF 
creation sometimes follows in its wake. And here of eoeise was 

384 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

a danger to a man who worked as hard as Chesterton. He some 
times spoke of himself as "idle/* but I think it would be hard 
to match either his output or his hours of creative work. I 
remember one visit that I paid to Beaconsfield when he was 
writing one of his major books. He was in his study by 10 in the 
morning, emerged for lunch at i and went back from about 
2:30 to 4:30. After tea he worked again until a 7:30 dinner. 
His wife and I went to bed about 10:30 leaving him preparing 
his material for the next day. Towards i A.M. a ponderous tread 
as he passed my door on his way to bed woke me to a general 
impression of an earthquake. 

In a passage in Magic G.K. makes his hero say, "I happen to 
have whit is called a strong head and I have never been really 
drunk, nt was true of himself, but in these years just before 
the Great War, before his own severe illness, intimate friends 
have told me that they had seen him unlike himself, that they 
felt he had come to depend, "almost absent-mindedly" one said, 
on the stimulus of wine for the sheer physical power to pour 
forth so much. 

Besides overwork G.K. was in these years mentally oppressed 
by the strain of the Marconi Case, and then almost overwhelmed 
by the horror of the World War. A man very tender of heart, 
sensitive and intensely imaginative, hetgpuld not react as calmly 
as Cecil himself did to what both believed the probability of 
the latter's imprisonment. And when that strain was removed 
there remained the stain on national honour, the opening gulf 
into which he saw his country falling. To him the Marconi Case 
was a heavier burden than the war. For, as he saw it, in the 
Marconi Case the nation was wrong in enduring corruption and 
in the war the nation was magnificently right in resisting 

So Chesterton felt, yet the outbreak of the war with all its 
human suffering to mind and body vteighed heavily upon him 
too. He wrote The 'Barbarism of BerZmW which I will say some- 

The Eve of the War 385 

thing in the next chapter for it belongs to those writings of the 
war period the series of which is so consistent that in his Auto 
biography he was able to claim that he had no sympathy "with 
the rather weak-minded reaction that is going on round us. At 
the first outbreak of the War I attended the conference of all 
the English men of letters, called together to compose a reply to 
the manifesto of the German professors. I at least among all 
those writers can say, What I have written I have written/ " 

^Then his illness came upon him. Dr. Pocock, coming for a 
first visit, found the bed partly broken under the weight of the 
patient who was lying in a grotesquely awkward position, his 
hips higher than his head. 

"You must be horribly uncomfortable/' he said. 

'Why, now you mention it/ 7 said G.K., like a man receiving 
a new idea, "I suppose I am." 

The doctor ordered a water-bed, and almost the last words he 
heard before the patient sank into coma were, "I wonder if this 
bally ship will ever get to shore/' 

^The illness lasted several months. We can follow its progress 
(and his) in extracts from letters * written to Father O'Connor 
by Frances: 

Nov. 2-5th, 1914. You must pray for him. He is seriously ill and I 
have two nurses. It is mostly heart-trouble, but there are complica 
tions. He is quite his normal self, as to head and brain, arid he 
even dictates and reads a great deal. 

Dec. 29th, 1914. Gilbert had a bad relapse on Christmas Eve, 
and now is being desperately ill. He is iH>t often conscious, and is 
so weak I feel he might ask for you if so I shall wire. Dr. is stiU 
hopeful, but I feel in despair. 

Jan. 3rd, 1915. If you came he would not know you, and this 
condition may last some time. The brain is dormant, and must be 
kept so. If he is sufficiently conscious at any moment to understand, 
I will ask him to let you come or will send on my own resposisi- 
bility. Pray for his soul and mine. 

* They are printed in Pother Brown on Chesterton, pp. 98 ff. 

386 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Jan, 7th, 1915. Gilbert seemed decidedly clearer yesterday, and 
though not quite so well today the doctor says he has reason to hope 
the mental trouble is working off. His heart is stronger, and he is 
able to take plenty of nourishment. Under the circumstances there 
fore I am hoping and praying he may soon be sufficiently himself 
to tell us what he wants done. I am dreadfully unhappy at not 
knowing how he would wish me to act. His parents would never 
forgive me if I acted only on my own authority. I do pray to God 
He will restore him to himself that we may know. I feel in His 
mercy He will, even if death is the end of it or the beginning shall 
I say? 

Jan. 1 2th, 1915. He is really better I believe and by the mercy 
of God I dare hope he is to be restored to us. Physically he is 
stronger, and the brain is beginning to work normally, and soon I 
trust we shall be able to ask him his wishes with regard to the 
Church. I am so thankful to think that -we can get at his desire. 

In January 1915 Frances wrote to my mother: "Gilbert re 
mains much the same in a semi-conscious conditionsleeping a 
great deal. I feel absolutely hopeless; it seems impossible it can 
go on like this. The impossibility of reaching him is too terrible 
an experience and I don't know how to go through with it. I 
pray for strength and you must pray for me/' 

"Dearest Josephine," she wrote in a later undated letter, 
"Gilbert is today a little better, after being practically at a 
standstill for the past week. He asked, for me today, which is a 
great advance, and hugged me. I feel like Elijah (wasn't it?) 
and shall go in the strength of that hug forty days. The recov 
ery will be very slow, the doctors tell me, and we have to prevent 
his using his brain at all/* 

In this letter she begged to see my mother, and I remember 
wfcea they met she told her that one day she had tried to test 
whether Gilbert was conscious by asking him, "Who is looking 
after you?" "He answered very gravely, 'God* and I felt so 
small," she said. Presently Frances told my mother that Gilbert 
had talked to her about coming into the Catholic Church. It 
was just at tikis time that she wrote to tell Father O'Connor 

The Eve of the War 387 

that Gilbert said to her "Did you think I was going to die*?" and 
followed this with the question, "Does Father O'Connor know?" 
After her conversation with my mother Frances wrote to her: 

March 21 

I think I would rather you did not tell anyone just yet of what 
I told you regarding my husband and the Catholic Church. Not 
that I doubt for a moment that he meant it and knew what he was 
saying and was relieved at saying it, but I don't want the world at 
large to be able to say that he came to this decision when he was 
weak and unlike himself. He will ratify it no doubt when his com 
plete manhood is restored. I know it was not weakness that made 
him say it, but you will understand my scruples. I know in God's 
good time he will make his confession of faith and if death comes 
near him again I shall know how to act. 

Thanks for all your sympathy. I did enjoy seeing you. 

On Easter Eve Frances wrote two letters, one to Father 
O'Connor, one to my mother. To Father O'Connor she said: 

All goes well here, though still very very slowly G's mind is 
gradually clearing, but it is still difficult to him to distinguish 
between the real and the unreal. I am quite sure he will soon be 
able to think and act for himself, but I dare not hurry matters at 
all. I have told him I am writing to you often and he said, *That is 
right 111 see him soon. I want to talk to him/' He wanders at times, 
but the dear intervals are longer. He repeated the Creed last night, 
this time in English. 

To my mother: 

I feel the enormous significance of the resurrection of the body 
when I think of my dear husband, just consciously laying hold of 
life again. Indeed, I will pray that your dear ones may be kept in 
safety. God bless you for afl your sympathy. I am so glad that Gil 
bert's decision (for I am sure it was a decision) has made you so 
happy. I dare not hurry anything, the least little excitement upsets 
him last night he said the Creed and asked me to read parts of 
Myers' "St. Paul." He still wanders a good deal when tired but is 
certainly a little stronger. Love and Easter blessings to you all. 

388 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

We ourselves were passing then through the shadow of death. 
Almost as Gilbert rose again to this life my father passed into 
life eternal. One of the very few letters I possess in Gilbert's 
own handwriting was also one of the first he wrote on recovery. 
It was to my mother: 

I fear I have delayed writing to you, and partly with a vague 
feeling that I might so find some way of saying what I feel on your 
behalf and others'; and of course it has not come. Somewhat of what 
the world and a wider circle of friends have lost I shall try to say 
in the Dublin Review, by the kindness of Monsignor Barnes, who 
has invited me to contribute to it; but of all I feel, and Frances 
feels, and of the happy times we have had in your house, I despair 
of saying anything at all. 

I can only hope you and yours will be able to read between the 
lines of what I write either here or there; and understand that the 
simultaneous losses of a good friend and a fine intellect have a way 
of stunning rather than helping the expression of either. I would 
say I am glad he lived to see what I feel to be a rebirth of England, 
if his mere presence in an older generation did not prove to me 
that England never died. 

This sense of the rebirth of England gave to Gilbert's re 
stored life a special quality of triumph that abode down to the 
end of the war. 

The War Years 

GILBERT WAS TAKING up life again and with it the old 
friendships and the old debates, in the new atmosphere 
created by the war. 
To Bernard Shaw he wrote: 

June i2,th, 1915 

I ought to have written to you a long time ago, to thank you for 
your kind letter which I received when I had recovered and still 
more for many other kindnesses that seem to have come from you 
during the time before the recovery. I am not a vegetarian; and I 
am only in a very comparative sense a skeleton. Indeed I am afraid 
you must reconcile yourself to the dismal prospect of my being more 
or less like what I was before; and any resumption of my ordinary 
habits must necessarily include the habit of disagreeing with you. 
What and where and when is "Uncommon Sense about the Warr>" 
How can I get hold of it"? I do not merely ask as one hungry for 
hostilities, but also as one unusually hungry for good literature, "II 
me faut des g6ants," as Cyrano says; so I naturally wish to hear the 
last about you. You probably know that I do not agree with you 
about the War; I do not think it is going on of its own momentura; 
I think it is going on in accordance with that logical paradox 
whereby the thing that is most difficult to do is also the thing that 
must be done. If it were an easy war to end it would have been 
a wicked war to begin. If a cat has nine lives one must Mil it nine 
times, saving your humanitarian feelings, and always supposing it 
is a witch's cat and really draws its powers from Hell. I have always 
thought that there was in Prussia an evil will; I would not haw 
made it a ground for going to war, but I was quite sure of it long 


Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

before there was any war at all. But I suppose we shall some day 
have an opportunity of arguing about all that. Meanwhile my 
thanks and good wishes are as sincere as my opinions; and I do not 
think those are insincere. 

Yours always sincerely, 


Bernard Shaw replied: 

22nd June 1915 

I am delighted to learn under your own hand that you have 
recovered all your health and powers with an unimpaired figure. 
You have also the gratification of knowing that you have carried 
out a theory of mine that every man of genius has a critical illness 
at 40, Nature's object being to make him go to bed for several 
months. Sometimes Nature overdoes it: Schiller and Mozart died. 
Goethe survived, though he very nearly followed Schiller into the 
shades. I did the thing myself quite handsomely by spending eight 
een months on crutches, having two surgical operations, and break 
ing my arm* I distinctly noticed that instead of my recuperation 
beginning when my breakdown ended, it began before that. The 
ascending curve cut through the tail of the descending one; and I 
was consummating my collapse and rising for my next flight simul 

It is perfectly useless for you to try to differ with me about the 
war. NOBODY can differ with me about the war: you might as well 
differ from the Almighty about the orbit of the sun. I have got 
the war right; and to that complexion, you too must come at last, 
your nature not being a fundamentally erroneous one. 

At the same time, it is a great pity you were not born in Ireland. 
You would have had the advantage of hearing the burning patriot 
ism of your native land expressing itself by saying exactly the same 
things about England that English patriotism now says about Prus 
sia, and of recognizing that though they were entirely true, they 
were also a very great nuisance, as they prevented people from 
building the future by conscientious thought. Also, Cecil would 
have seen what the Catholic Church is really like when the apos 
tolic succession falls to die farmer's son who is cleverer with school 
books than with agricultural implements. In fact you would have 

The War Years 391 

learned a devil of a lot of things for lack of which you often drive 
me to exclaim "Gilbert, Gilbert, why persecutest thou me." 

As to the evil will, of course there is an evil will in Prussia. 
Prussia isn't Paradise. I have been fighting that evil will, in myself 
and others, all my life. It is the will of the brave Barabbas, and of 
the militant Nationalists who admired him and crucified the pro- 
Gentile. But the Prussians must save their own souls. They also 
have their Shaws and Chestertons and a divine spark in them for 
these to work on. ... What we have to do is to make ridiculous 
the cry of '^Vengeance is mine, saith Podsnap," and, whenever any 
one tells an Englishman a lie, to explain to the poor devil that it is 
a lie, and that he must stop cheering it as a splendid speech. For 
an Englishman never compares speeches either with facts or with 
previous speeches: to him a speech is art for art's sake, the disciples 
of our favoured politicians being really, if they only knew it, dis 
ciples of Whistler. Also, and equally important, we have to bear in 
mind that the English genius does not, like the German, lie in 
disciplined idealism. The Englishman is an Anarchist and a grum 
bler: he has no such word as Fatherland, and the idea which he 
supposes corresponds to it is nothing but the swing of a roaring 
chorus to a patriotic song. Also he is a muddler and a slacker, 
because tense and continuous work means thought; and he is lazy 
and fat in the head. But as long as he is himself, and grumbles, it 
does not matter. Given a furious Opposition screaming for the dis 
grace of tyrannical and corrupt ministers, and a press on the very 
verge of inviting Napoleon to enter London in triumph and (ieKver 
a groaning land from the intolerable burden of its native ralers 1 
incapacity and rapacity and obsolescence, and the departments wiH 
work as well as the enemy's departments (perhaps better), and the 
government will have to keep its wits at full pressure. But once let 
England try what she is trying now: that is, to combine the devoted 
silence and obedience of the German system with the slack and 
muddle of Goodie and Doodle, and we are lost Unless you keep irp 
as hot a fire from your ink-bottle on the Government as the soldier 
keeps up from the trenches you are betraying that soldier. Of 
course they will call you a pro-German, What of that? They cal 
MB a pro-German. We also must stand fire. As Peer Gynt saM of 
hell, if the torture is only moral, it cannot be so very bad* 

I grieve to say that some fool has stolen my tide, and issued a 
two page pamphlet called Uncommon Sense about the War. S I 

392, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

shall have to call mine More Common Sense About the War. It is 
not yet in type: I haven't yet quite settled its destination. 

Any chance of seeing you both if we drive over from Ayot to 
Beaconsfield some Sunday or other afternoon. 

Yours ever, 


Wells too was rejoicing over his recovery 


I'm so delighted to get a letter from you again. As soon as I can 
I will come to Beaconsfield and see you. I'm absurdly busy in bring 
ing together the Rulers of the country and the scientific people of 
whom they are totally ignorant. Lloyd George has never heard of 
Ramseyand so on, and the hash and muddle and quackery on 
our technical side is appalling. It all means boys' lives in Flanders 
and horrible waste and suffering. Well, anyhow if weVe got only 
obscure and cramped and underpaid scientific men we have a bench 
of fine fat bishops and no end of tremendous lawyers. One of the 
best ideas for the Ypres position came from Robert Mond but the 
execution was too difficult for our officers to attempt. So weVe got 
a row of wounded and mangled men that would reach from Bea 
consfield to Great Marlow just to show we don't take stock in these 
damned scientific people. 

Yours ever, 


No one however mad could have called Gilbert a pro-Ger 
man: it was perhaps the only accusation the New Witness 
escaped. But while he largely agreed with Shaw's analysis of the 
Englishman as a natural Anarchist and grumbler, while he 
believed in the voluntary principle and disliked conscription, his 
general outlook was as different from Shaw's as were the 
pamphlets they both wrote. 

In a book addressed to a German professor G.K. frankly con 
fessed the real Crimes of England, for which she was now 
making reparation. 

To any Englishman living in the native atmosphere the sug 
gestion that England had been preparing an aggression against 

The War Years 393 

Germany seemed more than faintly ludicrous. We were not en 
gaged in plotting in Europe on the contrary we were far too 
careless of Europe* And the funds of the Liberal Party (which 
was in power) actually depended chiefly on Quaker Millionaires 
who were noted pacifists and at whose bidding national honour 
was jeopardised by our delay in declaring our support of France. 
We were not prepared for war and probably only the shock of 
the invasion of Belgium made certain our stand with France. 

... It may seem an idle contradiction to say that our strength 
in this war came from not being prepared. But there is a truth that 
cannot be otherwise expressed. The strongest thing in sane anger is 
surprise. If we had time to think we might have thought better- 
that is worse. Everything that could be instinctive managed to be 
strong; the instant fury of contempt with which the better spirit 
in our rulers flung back the Prussian bribe; the instant solidarity of 
all parties; above all, the brilliant instinct by which the Irish leader 
cast into the scale of a free Europe the ancient sword of Ireland.* 

Our crimes were in the past, not the present. The first had 
been when we gave aid to Prussia against Austria, Austria which 
was "not a nation" but "a kind of Empire, a Holy Roman 
Empire that never came," which "still retained something of the 
old Catholic comfort for the soul." We had helped to put 
Prussia instead of Austria at the head of the Getmanies Prussia 
which in the person of Frederick the Great "hated everything 
German and everything good." Francophile as Chesterton was, 
he yet had a jcertain tenderness for those old Germanies whkh 
"preserved the good things that go with small interests and strict 
boundaries, music, etiquette, a dreamy philosophy and so on." 

Our next crimes had been in calling Prussia to our aid against 
Napoleon and in failing to assist Denmark against her. And by 
far our worst had been the using of Prussian mercenaries with 
their ghastly tradition of cruelty in Ireland in the '98, 

There is in this little book one drawback from the historians 

* The Uses of Diversity. 

394 Gilbert Keitk Chesterton 

point of view: its view of the past is so oddly selective. Doubtless 
it is lawful to examine your own nation's conscience as you do 
your own and not your neighbour's. Yet history should be 
rather an examination of facts than an examination of con 
science. And historically Richelieu's policies had had quite some 
thing to say in the creation of Prussia; the conscript armies of 
the French Revolution had first made Europe into an armed 
camp. It was an undue simplification to insist exclusively on 
The Crimes of England. 

But even while he did so Chesterton rejoiced that now at long 
last England was on the right side, on the side of Europe and 
of sanity. The New Witness group had always seen the issue as 
their countrymen were now suddenly beginning to see it. They 
had no sympathy with the "liberal" thinking, made in Ger 
many, that had in the name of biblical and historical criticism 
been undermining the bases of Christianity. Their love of logic 
and of clarity had made German philosophy intolerable to them 
it was wind, and it was fog. Finally their love of France had 
always made them conceive of Europe as centering in that coun 
try* For them there was one profound satisfaction even amid 
the horrors of war: that the issues were so clear. 

But were they as clear to the whole world? If not they must 
be made so. 

There were two main problems to be overcome in this matter, 
one of which was less pronounced at the time than it became 
later the economic interpretation of history. Started by Karl 
Marx the idea that all history can be interpreted solely by eco 
nomic causes has come since to have an extraordinary popularity 
even among those whose own philosophy and sociology are 
most widely removed from Marx. It is a view which Chesterton 
would always have dismissed with the contempt it deserves. 
Both he and Belloc saw as the determining factor in history, 
because it is the determining factor in human life, the free will 
of man. This does not mean that they would deny that the 

The War Years 395 

economic factor has often been powerful in conquering man's 
liberty, or a motive in its exercise. But Chesterton regarded the 
present age as a diseased one precisely because the money motive 
held so disproportionate a place in it. He looked back to the 
past and saw the world of today as almost unique in that respect. 
He looked forward to the future and hoped for a release from it. 

And as he looked back into the past he saw something in the 
history of mankind far stronger than the economic motive 
whether that mean the strife for wealth or the mere struggle for 
subsistence. He saw the all-pervading power of religion, which 
in bygone ages had presided over man's activities and turned the 
exercise of that most noble faculty free-will to the building of a 
civilization today undreamed of. 

But in 1914 it was easier to get away from the economic 
interpretation of history than it was to overcome another diffi 
culty in the minds of those who had not the Chesterton vision 
of Europe, and to whom it seemed that in a war between nations 
it was extremely likely that all parties were more or less equally 
to bkme, "History," said Chesterton, "tends to be a fagade of 
faded picturesqueness for most of those who have not specially 
studied it: a more or less monochrome background for the drama 
of their own day/' But the nature of that background and die 
vision of today's drama will vary with the varying angle of his 
toric vision. 

There were two possible meanings for the statement that all 
nations were to blame for the world war. All nations had gone 
away from God. Motives of personal and national greed had 
ousted the old ideal of Christendom. It might roughly be said 
that no nation was seriously trying to seek the Kingdom of God 
and His Justice. International Finance had become a shadow 
resting on all the earth, and it could not have got this power if 
Governments had been governing solely for the good of their 
peoples. "Bow down your heads before God," is the invocation 
constantly used in the Missal during the penitential season of 

396 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Lent and the government of every nation needed this call to 

With this interpretation Chesterton would have agreed. All 
nations were to blame for the predisposing causes that made 
a world-war possible. But when we come to the question of 
actual responsibility for making this particular war, the state 
ment means something very different and something with 
which Chesterton was prepared to join issue. Against him 
those who disliked France or England, and saw the history of 
those two countries as a history of Imperialism, were saying: 
if Germany had not attacked France, France would have at 
tacked Germany; or: England would have been equally treach 
erous if it had paid her look at the Treaty of Limerick. 

Chesterton kept imploring people simply to look at the facts. 
Germany had in fact broken her word to France and attacked 
her. France had not attacked Germany. Germany had invaded 
Belgium. England had not invaded Holland "to seize a naval 
and commercial advantage; and whether they say that we 
wished to do it in our greed or feared to do it in our cowardice, 
the fact remains that we did not do it. Unless this common- 
sense principle be kept in view, I cannot conceive how any 
quarrel can possibly be judged. A contract may be made be 
tween two persons solely for material advantage on each side: 
but the moral advantage is still generally supposed to lie with 
the person who keeps the contract/' * 

The promise and the vow were fundamental to Chesterton's 
view of human life. Discussing divorce he claims as essential 
to manhood the right to bind oneself and to be taken at one's 
word. The marriage vow was almost the only vow that re 
mained out of the whole mediaeval conception of chivalry and 
he could not endure to see it set at nought. But even in the 
modern. world there still remained some notion of the sacred- 
ness of a solemn promise. 

* The Barbarism of "Berlin, 15-16. 

The War Years 397 

'It is plain that the promise, or extension of responsibility 
through time, is what chiefly distinguishes us, I will not say 
from savages, but from brutes and reptiles. This was noted by 
the shrewdness of the Old Testament, when it summed up the 
dark, irresponsible enormity of Leviathan in the words, Will 
he make a pact with thee?' . , . The vow is to the man what 
the song is to the bird, or the bark to the dog; his voice 
whereby he is known." * There were two chief marks whereby 
it seemed to Chesterton that the Prussian invasion of Belgium 
was fundamentally an attack on civilization. Contempt for a 
promise was the first. He called it the war on the word. 

The other mark of barbarism he called the refusal of rec 
iprocity. 'The Prussians/' he wrote, "had been told by their 
literary men that everything depends upon Mood: and by their 
politicians that all arrangements dissolve before 'necessity/ w f 
This was not merely a contempt for the word but also an 
assumption that German necessity was like no other necessity 
because the German "cannot get outside the idea that he, 
because he is he and not you, is free to break the law; and 
also to appeal to the law." Thus the Kaiser at once violated the 
Hague Convention openly himself and wrote to the President 
of the United States to complain that the Allies were violating 
it. "For this principle of a quite unproved racial supremacy is 
the last and worst of the refusals of reciprocity/* t 

If these two ideas were allowed to prevail they must destroy 
civilization and so to Chesterton the war was a crusade and, to 
his profound joy, was understood as such by the people of 
England. The democratic spirit of our country "is rather un 
usually sluggish and far below the surface. And the most 
genuine and purely popular movement that we have had since 
the Chartists has been the enlistment for this war." Chesterton 
loved the heroic humour of the trenches: the cry of TEariy 
Doors" from the boys rushing cm death; the term Bligfaty for 

* Ibid, 32-33. t Ibid, 37. $ Ibid, p. 60. 

398 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

England and congratulations on a severe wound as a "good 
Blighty one"; the song under showers of bullets, "When It's 
Raining Keep Your Umbrella Up." The English, he once said, 
had no religion left except their sense of humour but I think 
he meant that they hung out humour somewhat defiantly as a 
smoke-screen for other things. 

Anyhow he doubted neither that the war was worth win 
ning nor that it could be won by our soldiers and sailors. And 
with the soldiers and sailors stood the munition workers and 
the Trades Unions which had sacrificed their cherished rights 
for the war period. If the only danger to England was on the 
Home Front it was not, in his eyes, to be found in the mass of 
the nation. Nor was he at first too apprehensive of the actions 
of the Government. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey might have 
been slow in declaring war but both were patriotic Englishmen 
and with them stood with equal patriotism the mass of the 
governing classes. If as has later been said the war had really 
been brought about by English political and financial interests, 
it is strange that Lord Desborough, head of the London house 
of J. P. Morgan and a leading financier of England, should 
have lost his two elder sons and the Prime Minister his eldest. 

But the New Witness did see two dangers at home which 
might jeopardise the success of our armies in the field and 
bring about a premature and dishonourable peace. These were 
international finance, and the Press magnates. 

Nothing so reminds me of how we were all feeling about 
the daily papers just then as finding this letter to E. C. Bentley 
(dated July 20, 1915): 

I was delighted to hear from you though very sorry to hear you 
taro* been bad. I mean physically bad; morally and intellectually 
p*i have evidently been very good. Seriously, I think you have done 
scte^mg to save this country; for the Telegraph continues to be 
almost the only paper that the crisis has sobered and not tipsified. 
I take it in myself and know many others who do so. Part of the 

The War Years 399 

fun about 'Armsworth is that quite a lot of old ladies of both sexes 
go about distinguishing elaborately between the Daily Mail and 
the Times.* It is a stagnant state of mind created in people who 
have never been forced by revolution or other public peril to dis 
tinguish between the things they are used to and the thoughts for 
which the things are supposed to stand. If you printed the whole 
of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday and called it the Athenaeum, they 
would read it with unmoved faces. So long as St. Pauls Cathedral 
stood in the usual place they would not mind if there was a 
Crescent on top of it instead of a Cross. By the way, I see the Ger 
mans have actually done what I described as a wild fancy in the 
Flying Inn; combined the Cross and the Crescent in one ornamental 
symbol. . . . 

I am inclined to think that the attack upon Harmsworth 
which the New Witness developed attributed too much to 
purposed malice and did not allow enough for the journalistic 
craving for news and for "scoops." Probably some of the posters 
and articles to which they objected were not the work of Lord 
NorthclifFe but of some young journalist anxious to sell his 
paper. Nevertheless the New Witness attack was not only 
largely justified but was also remarkably courageous. The staff 
of the New Witness were themselves journalists and men of 
letters. In both capacities as powerful a newspaper owner as 
Lord Northcliffe could damage them severely and did. Never 
henceforward would any of them be able to write in one of his 
numerous papers, never would one of their books receive a 
favourable review. For Belloc did not hesitate to call Lord 
Northcliffe a traitor for the way in which he had attacked 
Kitchener, while Cecil amused himself by reviewing and point 
ing out the illiteracy of that strange peer's own writing. Later 
too when the Harmsworth papers were in full cry for the fall 
of Asquith and the substitution of Lloyd George, the New? 
Witness took a strong stand. They pointed out too the way in 

*Both tbese papers were tben owned by tfae same mart Alfred Harms* 
worth, who had became Lord 

400 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

which censorship was exercised against the smaller newspapers 
while the Northcliffe press seemed immune. Here was the 
fundamental danger. Whatever the motive, some of the attacks 
and articles printed were undoubtedly calculated, in military 
language, to cause alarm and despondency. It was appalling 
that in time of war this should be permitted; and, as they saw 
it, permitted because the Harmsworth millions had been used 
to secure a hold on certain politicians. To the New Witness 
"George" was simply Harmsworth's man. 

Meanwhile at Easter, 1916, came the awful tragedy of the 
Irish rising. Chesterton had fallen into the sleep of his long 
illness soon after the splendid gesture in which Redmond had 
offered the sword of Ireland to the allied cause. And there 
seems little doubt that in making this offer Redmond had with 
him, for the last time, the people of Ireland. Recruiting began 
well but that awful fate of stupidity that seems to overtake 
'every Englishman dealing with Ireland even now was over 
whelming the two countries. Sir Francis Vane, an Irish officer 
in the British Army, described in a series of articles in the New 
Witness the blunders made in the recruiting campaign: such 
things as prominent Protestant Unionists being brought to the 
fore, national sentiment discouraged, waving of Union Jacks, 
appeals to patriotism not for Ireland but for England. 

Vane himself found his attempt at recruiting on national 
lines unpopular with authority and in the midst of his success 
ful effort was recalled to England. Still, though recruiting 
slackened, the cause of the Allies remained in Ireland the 
popular cause and the Easter Rising was the work only of a 
handful of men. Its immediate cause was the fact that although 
the Home Rule Bill had been passed and was on the Statute 
Book its operation was again deferred. All Irishmen saw this as 
a breach of faith yet the majority were not at that time behind 
the rising. The severity of its repression turned it almost over- 

The War Years 401 

night into a national cause and erected yet another barrier 
against friendship between England and Ireland. 

For this friendship Chesterton longed ardently and worked 
passionately, nor did he believe the barriers insurmountable. 
He even held that there was between the people of the two 
countries a natural affinity. 'There is something common to all 
the Britons, which even Acts of Union have not torn asunder. 
The nearest name for it is insecurity, something fitting in men 
walking on cliffs and the verge of things. Adventure, a lonely 
taste in liberty, a humour without wit, perplex thek critics 
and perplex themselves. Their souls are fretted like their 
coasts." * The Irish and the English had suffered oppression at 
the same hands those of the rulers of England. If Prussian 
soldiers had been used against Irish peasants, so too had they 
been used against English Chartists. A typical Englishman, 
William Cobbett, had suffered fine and long imprisonment 
because of his protest against the flogging of an English soldier 
by a German mercenary. 

'Telling the truth about Ireland/* wrote Chesterton, "is not 
very pleasant to a patriotic Englishman; but it is very patri 
otic." f For the lack of the essential patriotism of admitting past 
sin the rulers of England were perpetuating an evil that many 
of them sincerely desired to end. For this was a case where the 
right road could only be found by retracing the steps of a long 
road of wrong. 

Before the end of the war G.K. visited Ireland and in the 
book that he wrote after this visit may be found his best 
analysis of all this matter. Ireland, he believed, was making a 
mistake in not throwing herself into the cause of the defeat 
of Germany, not because she owed anything to England bet 
because of what Prussia was and of what Europe meant Ire 
land had been the friend of France and the enemy of 

* A Short History of England? p. 7. 
f The Crimes of England, p, 57. 

402 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

long before England had been either; she would do well to 
hold to her ancient allegiance. 

It was true that Ireland had been betrayed by the Liberal 
promise of Home Rule but the men who betrayed her were 
the Marconi men! Redmond had made the great mistake of his 
career when from motives of patriotism for Ireland he had 
helped the party hacks of the Government Committee to white 
wash these men, who had gone on to betray Ireland as they 
were then betraying England. England too needed Home Rule. 
England too needed deliverance from her "degenerate and 
unworthy governing class/' 

There are a few pages in Irish Impressions now out of 
print which find their place here in illustration of what he 
meant by his championship of nationality: 

A brilliant writer . . . once propounded to me his highly personal 
and even perverse type of internationalism by saying, as a sort of un 
answerable challenge, "Wouldn't you rather be ruled by Goethe than 
by Walter Long?'' I replied that words could not express the wild love 
and loyalty I should feel for Mr* Walter Long, if the only alternative 
were Goethe. I could not have put my own national case in a clearer 
or more compact form. I might occasionally feel inclined to kill Mr. 
Long; but under the approaching shadow of Goethe, I should feel 
more inclined to kill myself. That is the deathly element in dena 
tionalisation; that it poisons life itself, the most real of all real 
ities. . . . 

Some people felt it an affectation that the Irish should put 
up their street signs in Gaelic but G.K. defended it. "It is well 
to remember that these things, which we also walk past every 
day y are exacdy the sort of things that always have, in the 
nan*eless fashion, the national note/' 

It is this sensation of stemming a stream, of ten thousand things 
all pouring one way, labels, titles, monuments, metaphors, modes 
of address, assumptions in controversy, that make an Englishman 
in Ireland know that he is in a strange land. Nor is he merely 

The War Years 403 

bewildered, as among a medley of strange things. On the contrary, 
if he has any sense, he soon finds them unified and simplified to a 
single impression, as if he were talking to a strange person. He 
cannot define it, because nobody can define a person, and nobody 
can define a nation. He can only see it, smell it, hear it, handle it, 
bump into it, fall over it, kill it, be killed for it, or be damned for 
doing ^it wrong. He must be content with these mere hints of its 
existence; but he cannot define it, because it is like a person, and 
no book of logic will undertake to define Aunt Jane or Uncle Wil 
liam, We can only say, with more or less mournful conviction, that 
if Aunt Jane is not a person, there is no such thing as a person. And 
I say with equal conviction that if Ireland is not a nation, there is 
no such thing as a nation. . . , 


in September 1916 Cecil Chesterton bade farewell to the 
New Witness. He was in the army as a private in the East 
Surreys, and G.K. took over the editorship. 

I like Chesterton's paper, the New Witness [wrote an American 
journalist in the New York Tribune (no, not yet Herald-Tribune)], 
since G.K.C. has taken it over. . , . Gilbert Chesterton seems to me 
the best thing England has produced since Dickens. , . . I like the 
things he believes in, and I hate sociological experts and prohibition 
ists and Uhlan officers, which are the things he hates. I feel in him 
that a very honest man is speaking, ... I like his impudence to 
Northcliffe. ... As a journalist Chesterton gets only about a quar 
ter of himself into action. But even a quarter of Chesterton is good 
measure. . . . He works very hard at his journalism. That is why 
he doesn't do it as well as his careless things, which give him fun. 
But for all that there is no other editorial page in England or the 
United States written with the snap, wit and honest humanity of 
his paragraphs. I hope he won't blunt himself by overwork. It 
would be an international loss if that sane, jolly mind is bent to 
routine. England has need of him. 

The overwork and the high quality of it were alike 
niable, but after the long repose of his illness G.K. seemed lite 
a giant refreshed and ready to run his course. Each week's 

404 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

New Witness had an Editorial, besides the paragraphs of which 
the New York Tribune speaks (not all of these however writ 
ten by himself), and a signed article under the suggestive 
general heading "At the Sign of the World's End/' The differ 
ence between articles and a real book, and the degree of work 
needed to turn the one into the other, may be seen if the essays 
on Marriage in the paper be compared with The Superstition 
of Divorce for which they furnished material, and those on 
Ireland with Irish Impressions. There were besides very many 
articles in other papers English and American and he was also 
writing his History of England. 

If all Englishmen had kept the same unwavering gaze at 
reality as Chesterton much of what he called "the rather 
feeble-minded reaction" that followed the war might have been 
avoided and with it the advent of Hider, Particularly he op 
posed the tendency to call "Kaiserism" what is now called 
"Hitlerism" and should always be called Prussianism. While 
agreeing that care should be taken not to write of German 
atrocities that could not be substantiated he insisted that there 
was no ground for forgetting or ignoring the findings of the 
American enquiry in Belgium which had established more than 
enough. These horrors, the bombing of civilians, shelling of 
open towns and sinking of passenger ships culminating with 
the Lusitania, were in the main what brought America into 
the war. Here, as with England, Chesterton did not admit as 
primary what has since been so exclusively stressed the eco 
nomic motive. Here as with England he took the volunteer 
army as one great proof of the will of a Nation. And those of 
us who remember can testify that in America as in England the 
will of the people was ahead of the decision of the politicians. 

On one point Chesterton's articles have a special interest: 
the question of reprisals. When the Germans broke yet another 
of the promises of the Hague Convention and initiated the 
use of poison gas there was much discussion as to the ethics of 

The War Years 405 

reprisals and G.K. used against reprisals two arguments one of 
which was a rare example of a fallacy in his arguments. If a 
wasp stings you, he said, you do not sting bacL No, we might 
reply, but you squash it you have as a man an advantage over 
a wasp and so do not need to use its own weapons to defeat it. 

His other argument is far more powerful is indeed over 
whelming. If you use, even as reprisals, unlawful weapons, it 
is harder to prove you did not initiate them. And I remember 
well another feeling at the time expressed by G.K. which was 
I believe that of the majority of English people if we use 
these things, if we accept the Prussian gospel of "frightfulness" 
then spiritually we have lost the war. Spiritually Prussia has 
conquered: as she has engulfed the old Germanics and, first 
imposing her rule, then gained acceptance of her ideas, so it 
may be with us. Ideas are everything and the barbarians destroy 
more with ideas even than by material weapons, horrible as 
these may be. 

Inclined at first to hope for the fruits of democracy from the 
Russian revolution Chesterton was soon being reproached by 
H. G. Wells for "dirty" suspiciousness about the Bolshevik 
leaders and their motives. But the collapse of Russia and the 
defeat of Rumania alike only strengthened the necessity of the 
fight to a finish with Prussia that became as the months passed 
the absorbing aim of the New Witness. In the treaties respec 
tively of Brest-Litovsk and Bukarest Germany imposed upon 
these two countries incredibly harsh terms. 

Thus wrote the New Witness after the Treaty of Bukarest: 

We should like to ask the Pacifists and Semi-Pacifists, who aie 
fond of official documents, if they have read the White Paper deal 
ing with the plain facts about the peace with Roumania. If they 
have a single word to say on the subject, we should be much inter 
ested to hear what it is. It makes absolutely plain two facts> l>odt 
of which have a sort of frightful humour after all the humanitarian 
talk about no annexations and no indemnities. The first is 

406 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

conquerors have annexed in a direct and personal sense beyond 
what is commonly meant by annexation; the second is that they 
have indemnified themselves by an immediate coercion and extor 
tion, which is generally veiled by the forms of a recognised indem 
nity. In annexing some nine thousand square miles, they have been 
particular to attach whole forests to the hunting-grounds of Hun 
garian nobles and the timber of Hungarian wood merchants; not 
merely annexing as a conqueror annexes, but rather stealing as an 
individual steals. Further, the fun growing fast and furious, they 
have taken country containing a hundred and thirty thousand 
Roumanians, merely because it is uninhabited land* For the second 
point, we often speak figuratively of tyrants enslaving a country; 
but Teutons do literally enslave. All the males of the occupied land, 
which happens to be two-thirds of Roumania, are driven to work 
on pain of death or prison. All this is clear and satisfactory enough; 
but the White Paper keeps the best to the last. It is this sentence 
we would commend to our peaceful friends: 'The German dele 
gates informed the Roumanian delegates, who were appalled at 
being required to accept such conditions, that they would appre 
ciate their moderation when they knew those which would be im 
posed on the Western Powers after the victory of the Central 

The reminder was needed. Far less than most people was 
Chesterton subject to that weakness of the human spirit that 
brings weariness in sustained effort and premature relaxation. 
Prussia had not, he said, shown any evidence of repentance 
merely of regret for lack of success. The Kaiser said he had not 
wanted this war. No, said Chesterton, he wanted a very differ 
ent war. Chesterton might and did say later that he himself had 
wanted a very different peace the destruction of Prussia, the 
reconstruction of the old German states but at present he 
wanted only to fight on until this became possible. 

I do not think he ever hated anybody but he did hate 
Pnisslanism as the "wickedness that hindered loving," and he 
had no liking for "the patronizing pacifism of the gentleman 
[it was Romain Holland] who took a holiday in the Alps and 
said he was above the struggle; as if there were any Alp from 

The War Years 407 

which the soul can look down on Calvary. There is, indeed, 
one mountain among them that might be very appropriate to 
so detached an observer the mountain named after Pilate, the 
man who washed his hands.'* * 

His keen imagination could visualize the sufferings caused 
by war. Vicariously he knew something of the life of the 
trenches, for Cecil like many another C. Man f had managed 
to get to France. A delightful article on Comradeship shows, 
what letters from soldiers confirm, how perfectly at home was 
Private Chesterton among his fellows and how much loved by 

I can understand a pagan, but not a Christian, who simply 
dismisses the suffering of our soldiers as useless. He is like Dr. 
Hyde scorning Father Damien or like those who cried at the 
foot of the Cross: He saved others, Himself He cannot save. 
They saved others these men, their suffering was that of the 
human race whose head is Christ. With Him they bore, even 
if they knew it not, that mysterious burden of humanity that 
makes some men question God's existence but draws others 
into conscious membership of His mystical body. Many were 
so drawn in those days and there seemed a new lifting up of 
the Cross. The New Witness does, I think, lack one note a 
little. They were too busy hating Prussianism to give thought 
to the Christian command to love Prussians, whose sufferings 
too were those of humanity. 

Into the opposite error there was no risk that they would fall. 
Never for them would heroism be belittled in the name of the 
very horrors it was encountering. In one article Belloc touched 
on this strange perversion and reminded his readers that die 
power to ravage and destroy was not really a new result of 
modem machinery. Attila and his Huns had inflicted even 
greater devastation and had left a desert behind them. Bar- 

* Uses of Diversity, p. 40 CFo*mtain Ub&xy) 

t English soldiers are classed A. B. <xr C., according to tkk degree o jpl^sir 
cal fitness, and Cecil was in Class C. 

408 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

barism in its nature was destructive and we were encountering 
barbarism. In so doing we were acting the part of Christian 

But the old fights still had to be waged on the home front: 
against the money power and against what the New Witness 
called Prussianism at home. Unceasingly they battled for fair 
treatment for soldiers' wives and children, for freedom from 
unmeaning and unnecessary regulations, against the profiteer 
ing by big firms and the consequent crushing of small. About 
two thousand small butchers' shops for instance had to close 
at the very beginning of the war owing to a cornering of sup 
plies by the large firms. Against this and all the ramifications 
of the meat "scandal" the New Witness struggled, publishing, 
they claimed, facts unpublished elsewhere and inspiring ques 
tions in the House of Commons. Belloc's irony, Chesterton's 
wit, point these articles and make them worth reading as litera 
ture; and there is some of the old fooling. A further series on 
the Servile State is attacked by Shaw who thinks that Belloc, 
since he is not a socialist, must be a follower of Herbert 
Spencer! G.K. accounts for this by saying that Shaw had not 
read Belloc. "How do you know," retorts Shaw, "it is not 
Herbert Spencer I have not read? Suppose you had your choice 
of not reading a book by Belloc and not reading one by Spencer 
which would you choose? Hang it all, be reasonable." 

The economic front was never abandoned and the paper 
continued to attack all forms of Socialism including the re 
creation of Bumble by Mrs. Sidney Webb, with all the regi 
mentation of the poor "for their own good" that Bumble repre 
sented. The inner secrets of the Fabian Office are unfolded by 
Shaw in a letter to Gilbert (dated Aug. 6, 1917). 


If you want to expose a scandalous orgy in the New Witness, 
you may depend on the following as being a correct account by an 
eye witness. 

The War Years 409 

You know that there is a body called The Fabian Research De 
partment, of which I have the hollow honour to be Perpetual Grand, 
the real moving spirit being Mrs. Sidney Webb. A large number 
of innocent young men and women are attracted to this body by 
promises of employment by the said Mrs. S.W. in works of unlim 
ited and inspiring uplift, such as are unceasingly denounced, along 
with Marconi and other matters, in your well-written organ. 

Well, Mrs. Sidney Webb summoned all these young things to an 
uplifting At Home at the Fabian Office lately. They came in crowds 
and sat at her feet whilst she prophesied unto them, with occasional 
comic relief from the unfortunate Perpetual Grand, At the decent 
hour of ten o'clock, she bade them good night and withdrew to her 
own residence and to bed. For some accidental reason or other I 
lingered until, as I thought, all the young things had gone home. 
I should explain that I was in the two pair back. At last I started to 
go home myself. As I descended the stairs I was stunned by the 
most infernal din I have ever heard, even at the front, coining from 
the Fabian Hall, which would otherwise be the back yard. On 
rushing to this temple I found the young enthusiasts sprawling over 
tables, over radiators, over everything except chairs, in a state of 
scandalous abandonment, roaring at the tops of their voices and in 
a quite unintelligible manner a string of presumably obscene songs, 
accompanied on the piano with frantic gestures and astonishing 
musical skill by a man whom I had always regarded as a respectable 
Fabian Researcher, but who now turned out to be a Demon Pianist 
out-Heroding (my secretary put in two rs, and explains that she 
was thinking of Harrods) Svengali. A horribly sacrilegious char 
acter was given to the proceedings by the fact that the tune they 
were singing when I entered was Luther's hymn Eine Feste Burg 
1st Unser Gott* As they went on (for I regret to say that my pres 
ence exercised no restraint whatever) they sang their extraordinary 
and incomprehensible litany to every tune, however august its asso 
ciations, which happened to fit it These, if you please, are the 
solemn and sour neophytes whose puritanical influence has kept 
you in dread for so many years. 

But I have not told you the worst Before I fled fcom the building 
I did at last discover what words it was they were singing. When it 
first flashed on me, I really couH not believe it But at the end rf 
the next verse no doubt or error was possible. The young maenad 
nearest me was concluding every strophe by shrieking that she <fidbft 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

care where the water went if it didn't get into the wine.* Now 
you know. 

I have since ascertained that a breviary of this Black Mass can 
be obtained at the Fabian Office, with notes of the numbers of the 
hymns Ancient and Modern, and all the airs sacred and profane, 
jo which your poems have been set. 

This letter needs no answer indeed, admits of none. I leave you 
to your reflections. 



"The Shaw Worm Turns on Wells" was a headline in the 
New Witness over a vigorous and light-hearted attack. The 
others were apt to score off Wells in these exchanges because 
he lost light-heartedness and became irritable. Even with Gil 
bert he sometimes broke out, although in a calmer moment he 
told Shaw that to get angry with Chesterton was an impossi 
bility. With Cecil Chesterton it was only too easy to get angry 
at any rate as lie appeared in the New Witness. But I think 
when he heard Cecil was in France Wells must have regretted 
one of the letters he wrote to Gilbert, just before the change 
of editorship. 

It was curious, the contrast between the genial personality 
so loved by his friends and the waspishness so often shown by 
Cecil and his staff in the columns of the paper. "His extraordi 
nary personality," writes E. S. P. Haynes, "wonderfully pene 
trated the eccentricity of his appearance. His features were 
slightly fantastic and his voice was as loudly discordant as his 
laughter; but the real charm and generosity of his character 
were so transparent that one never seemed to be conscious of 
the physical medium." 

Yet with all my sympathy for many of the New Witness 
ideas my nerves jangle when I read the volumes of Cecil's 
editorship, and I think jangled nerves explain if they do not 
excuse this outburst by Wells: 

* The refrain of a poem in The Flying Inn. 

The War Years 411 


Haven't I on the whole behaved decently to you? Haven't I 
always shown a reasonable civility to you and your brother and 
Belloc? Haven't I betrayed at times a certain affection for you? Very 
well, then you will understand that I don't start out to pick a 
needless quarrel with the New Witness crowd. But this business of 
the Hueffer book in the New Witness makes me sick. Some dis 
gusting little greaser named has been allowed to insult old 

F.M.H. in a series of letters that make me ashamed of my species. 
Hueffer has many faults no doubt but firstly he's poor, secondly 
he's notoriously unhappy and in a most miserable position, thirdly 
he's a better writer than any of your little crowd and fourthly, 
instead of pleading his age and his fat and taking refuge from serv 
ice in a greasy obesity as your brother has done, he is serving his 

country. His book is a great book and just lies about it I guess 

he's a dirty minded priest or some such unclean thing when he 
says it is the story of a stallion and so forth. The whole outbreak 
is so envious, so base, so cat-in-the-gutter-spitting-at-the-passer-by, 
that I will never let the New Witness into the house again. 
Regretfully yours, 


Gilbert replied: 

1 1 Warwick Gardens, Kensington W. 


As you will see by the above address I have been away from 
home; and must apologise for delay; I am returning almost at once, 
however. Most certainly you have always been a good friend to me, 
and I have always tried to express my pride m the fact. I know 
enough of your good qualities in other ways to ptit down every 
thing in your last letter to an emotion of loyalty to another friend. 
Any quarrel between us will not come from roe; and I confess I am 
puzzled as to why it should come from you, merely because some 
body else who is not I dislikes a book by somebody else wbo is not 
you, and says so in an article for which neither of us is even le- 

motely responsible, I very often disagree with the critkdsms of ; 

I do not know any&ing about the book or the drcumstaiices of 
Htieffer. I caimot help being eeiertamed by your vision of 
is not a priest, but a poor jc^ra^M, and I believe a 

412, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

But whoever lie may be C&nd I hardly think the problem worth a 
row between you and me) he has a right to justice: and you must 
surely see that even if it were my paper, I could not either tell a 
man to find a book good when he found it bad, or sack him for 
a point of taste which has nothing in the world to do with the prin 
ciples of the paper. For the rest, Haynes represents the New Witness 
much more than a reviewer does, being both on the board and the 
staff; and he has put your view in the paper I cannot help think 
ing with a more convincing logic. Don't you sometimes find it con 
venient, even in my case, that your friends are less touchy than you 

By all means drop any paper you dislike, though if you do it for 
every book review you think unfair, I fear your admirable range of 
modern knowledge will be narrowed. Of the paper in question I 
will merely say this. My brother and in some degree the few who 
have worked with him have undertaken a task of public criticism 
for the sake of which they stand in permanent danger of imprison 
ment and personal ruin. We are incessantly reminded of this danger; 
and no one has ever dared to suggest that we have any motive but 
the best If you should ever think it right to undertake such a ven 
ture, you will find that the number of those who will commit their 
journalistic fortunes to it is singularly small: and includes some who 
have more courage and honesty than acquaintance with the hier 
archy of art. It is even likely that you will come to think the latter 
less important. 

Yours, sans rancune, 


P.S. On re-reading your letter in order to be as fair as I am trying 
to be, I observe you specially mention - 's letters. You will see, of 
course, that this does not make any difference; to stop letters would 
be to stop Haynes' letter and others on your side; and these could 
not be printed without permitting a rejoinder. 1 post this from 
Beaconsfield, where anything further will find me. 

It ended as all quarrels did that anyone started with Gilbert: 


Also I can't quarrel with you. But the Hueffer business aroused 
my long dormant moral indignation and I let fly at the most sensi 
tive part of the New Witness constellation, the only part about 

The War Years 413 

whose soul I care. I hate these attacks on rather miserable exceptional 
people like Hueffer and Masterman. I know these aren't perfect men 
but their defects make quite sufficient hells for them without these 
public peltings. I suppose I ought to have written to C.C. instead 
of to you. One of these days I will go and have a heart to heart talk 
to him. Only I always get so amiable when I meet a man. He, CXX, 
needs it I mean the talking to. 

Yours ever 


Through the war's progress Wells appeared to Chesterton 
to be expressing with a powerful and individual genius not his 
own considered views but the reactions of public opinion. As 
Mr. Britling he saw the war through, and even called it "a war 
to end war/* As Mr. Clissold he asked of what use it had all 
been. Chesterton speaks of him as a "rather unstable genius," 
and the genius and instability alike can be seen in his meteor 
appearances in the New Witness and in his books. Several of 
these he sent to Gilbert, who wrote (Sept iz, 1917): 

I have been trying for a long time, though perpetually baulked 
with business and journalism, to write and thank you for sending 
me, in so generous a manner, your ever interesting and delightful 
books; especially as divisions touching the things we care most 
about, drive me, every time I review them, to deal more in con 
troversy and less in compliment than I intend. The truth and the 
trouble, is that both of us are only too conscious that there is a 
Great War going on all the time on the purely mental plane; and 
I cannot help thinking your view is often a heresy; and I know only 
too well that when you lead it, it is likely to be a large heresy. I fear 
that being didactic means being disproportionate; and that the temp 
tation to attack something I think I can correct leads to missing (in 
my writing, not in my reading) a thousand fine things that I cosuH 
never imitate. It is lucky for me that you are not very often a book- 
reviewer, when I bring out my own shapeless and amateurish boots. 

In tlte Aitix&ioffnphy GJC calk WeUs a sportive but 
spiritual child of Huxley. He delighted in his wit and swlftoess 

414 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

of mind, but he summarized in the same book the quality 
which runs through all his work. 

I have always thought that he re-acted too swiftly to everything; 
possibly as a part of the swiftness of his natural genius. I have 
never ceased to admire and sympathise; but I think he has always 
been too much in a state of reaction. To use the name which would 
probably annoy him most, I think he is a permanent reactionary. 
Whenever I met him, he seemed to be coining from somewhere, 
rather than going anywhere. . . . And he was so often nearly right, 
that his movements irritated me like the sight of somebody's hat 
being perpetually washed up by the sea and never touching the 
shore. But I think he thought that the object of opening the mind 
is simply opening the mind. Whereas I am incurably convinced 
that the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to 
shut it again on something solid. 

No change of mood in the public meant any change in the 
New Witness group. In a powerful article in reply to an old 
friend who asked for peace because the war was destroying 
freedom, Belloc told him that freedom had gone long since for 
the mass of Englishmen. "How many/* wrote G.K., "pacifists 
or semi-pacifists * * . resisted the detailed destruction of all 
liberty for the populace before the war? It is a bitter choice 
between freedom and patriotism, but how many fought for 
freedom before it gave them the chance of fighting against 
patriotism?" * 

Again and again they touched the spot on the question of 
trading with the enemy. In this as in all their attacks they made 
one point of enormous importance. Do not, they said, look for 
traitors and spies among waiters and small traders look up, not 
down. You will find them in high places if you will dare to 
look. They dared. 

And here came in once more what was commonly regarded 
as a strange crank peculiar to the Chesterbelloc their outlook 

*New Witness, May 31, 1917. 

The War Years 415 

towards Jews. Usually those who referred to it spoke of a reli 
gious prejudice. Again and again the New Witness, not always 
patiently but with unvarying clarity, explained. They had no 
religious prejudice against Jews, they had not even a racial 
prejudice against Jews (though this I think was true only of 
some of the staff). Their only prejudice was against the pre 
tence that a Jew was an Englishman. 

It was undeniable that there were (for example) Rothschilds 
in Paris, London and Berlin, all related and conducting an inter 
national family banking business. There were d'Erlangers in 
London and Paris (pronounced in the French style) whose 
cousins were Erlangers (pronounced in the German style) in 
Berlin. How, the New Witness asked, could members of such 
families feel the same about the war as an Englishman"? They 
could not, to put it at its lowest, have the same primary loyalty 
to England or to Germany either. Their primary loyalty must 
be, indeed it ought to be, to their own race and kindred. 

Yet this was surely an excessive simplification. We have only 
to remember that lately a son of the d'Erlanger house died 
gallantly as an English airman: we have only to remember the 
thousands of Jews who fought in our ranks in this war and the 
lasL Very many Jews are patriotic for England and for Amer 
ica: many were patriotic for Germany. This, no doubt, makes 
the problem more acute, but any discussion is nonsense that 
omits this certain fact. There are Jews patriotic first for the 
country they live in, the country that gave them home and 
citizenship, of which often their wives and mothers are 
descended; there are others who feel that Jewry is their patritL 

This was the fact the New Witness could never forget. A Jew 
might not be specially pro-German in feeling, yet his acrioes 
might help Germany by being pro-Jewish. International Jewish 
trading TP&S trading with the enemy and was to a very hrge 
extent coaiimiiiag m spite of assurances to the contrary. More 
over intematkHial finance was getting nervous over ifae 

4 i 6 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

tinuance of the war as a menace to its own future: it wanted 
peace, a peace that should still leave it in possession in this 
country and in Germany. Gilbert Chesterton was passion 
ately determined to cast it out. 

He was a Zionist. He wished for the Jewish people the 
peaceful possession of a country of their own, but he demanded 
urgently that they should no longer be allowed to govern his 
country. Marconi still obsessed him, and the surrender of Eng 
lish politics to the money power seemed to him to represent as 
great a danger for the future as Prussianism. For a moment 
the two dangers were the one danger, and against them was 
set the people of England. 

It was at this moment that Chesterton published his epic 
of the English people which he called a History. Frank Swinner- 
ton has told* how this book came to be written. Chatto & 
Windus (for whom Swinnerton worked) had asked G.K. to 
write a history of England: he refused "on the ground that he 
was no historian." Later he signed a contract with the same 
publishers for a book of essays, then discovered that he was 
already under contract to give this book to another firm. He 
asked Chatto & Windus to cancel their contract and offered to 
write something else for them. Swinnerton's account continues: 

The publishers, concealing jubilation, sternly recalled their original 
proposal for a short history of England. Shrieks and groans were dis 
tinctly heard all the way from Beaconsfield, but the promise was 
kept. The Short History of England was what Chesterton must have 
called a wild and awful success. It probably has been the most gen 
erally read of all his books. But while the credit for it is his, he must 
not be blamed for impudence in essaying history, when the inspira 
tion arose in another's head (not mine) and when in fact no man 
ever went to the writing of a literary work with less confidence. 

You can find no dates in this History and a minimum of facts, 
but you can find vision. The history professors at London Uni- 

* Georgian Scene , p. 93. 

War Years 417 

versity said to Lawrence Solomon that it was full of inaccuracies, 
yet "He's got something we hadn't got." G.K. might well have 
borrowed from Newman and called it an Essay in Aid of a His 
tory of England. He showed "something of the great moral 
change which turned the Roman Empire into Christendom, by 
which each great thing, to which it afterwards gave birth, was 
baptised into a promise or at least into a hope of permanence. 
It may be that each of its ideas was, as it were, mixed with 

The English people had been free and happy as a part of this 
great thing, cultivating their own land, establishing by their 
Guilds a social scheme based upon "pity and a craving for 
equality," building cathedrals and worshipping God, with the 
"Holy Land much nearer to a plain man's house than West 
minster, and immeasurably nearer than Runnymede." All life 
was made lovely by "this prodigious presence of a religious 
transfiguration in common life" and only began to darken 
with the successful "Rebellion of the Rich" under Henry 

Probably too big a proportion is given by Chesterton to the 
great crime that overshadowed for him the rest of English his 
tory. Yet he does justice in brilliant phrasing to the Eighteenth 
Century Whigs: still more to Chatham and Burke and to Dr. 
Johnson whom he so loved and to whom he was often com 
pared. But supremely he loved Nelson "who dies with his stars 
on his bosom and his heart upon his sleeve." For Nelson was 
the type and chief exemplar of the ordinary Englishman. 

. . . The very hour of his death, the veiy name of his ship* aie 
touched with that epic completeness which critics call the long arm 
of coincidence and prophets the hand of God. His very faults and 
failures were heroic, not in a loose but in a classic sense; in dial: 
lie fell only like tbe legendary heroes, weakened by a woman, not 
foiled by any foe among naen. And he remains the incarnation of a 
spirit in the Eaglish that is purely poetic; so poetic that k fimdes 

4i 8 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

itself a thousand things, and sometimes even fancies itself prosaic. 
At a recent date, in an age of reason, in a country already calling 
itself dull and business-like, with top-hats and factory chimneys 
already beginning to rise like towers of funereal efficiency, this 
country clergyman's son moved to the last in a luminous cloud, and 
acted a fairy tale. He shall remain as a lesson to those who do not 
understand England, and a mystery to those who think they do. In 
outward action he led his ships to victory and died upon a foreign 
sea; but symbolically he established something indescribable and 
intimate, something that sounds like a native proverb; he was the 
man who burnt his ships, and who for ever set the Thames on fire. 

The Ballad of the White Horse had been a poem about Eng 
lish legends and origins. The History too was called a poem by 
the reviewers. And it was. It was a poem about Falstaff and 
Sam Weller and even the Artful Dodger who in so many 
British colonies had turned into Robinson Crusoe. His rulers 
had tried to educate him, they had tried to Germanize him and 
to teach him "to embrace a Saxon because he was the other half 
of an Anglo-Saxon." All English culture had been based for a 
century and more on ardent admiration for German Kultur. 
And then 

. , the day came, and the ignorant fellow found he had other 
things to learn. And he was quicker than his educated countrymen, 
for he had nothing to unlearn. 

He in whose honour all had been said and sung, stirred, and 
stepped across the border of Belgium. Then were spread out before 
men's eyes all the beauties of his culture and all the benefits of his 
organization; then we beheld under a lifting daybreak what light 
we had followed and after what image we had laboured to refashion 
ourselves. Nor in any story of mankind has the irony of God chosen 
the foolish things so catastrophically to confound the wise. For the 
common crowd of poor and ignorant Englishmen, because they only 
knew that they were Englishmen, burst through the filthy cobwebs 
of four hundred years and stood where their fathers stood when they 
knew that they were Christian men. The English poor, broken in 
every revolt, bullied by every fashion, long despoiled of property, 

The War Years 419 

and now being despoiled of liberty, entered history with a noise of 
trumpets, and turned themselves in two years into one of the iron 
armies of the world. And when the critic of politics and literature, 
feeling that this war is after all heroic, looks around him to find the 
hero, he can point to nothing but a mob. 

After the Armistice 

THE MONTHS THAT followed the signing of the Armistice 
were the darkest in Gilbert Chesterton's life. Nothing but 
the immense natural high spirits of the New Witness group 
could have carried them through the many years in which they 
cried their unheeded warnings to England. But now as the war 
drew to an end a new note of optimism had become audible. 
The Prussian menace was almost conquered. Our soldiers 
would return and would bring with them the courage and con 
fidence of victors. They might overthrow the governing plutoc 
racy and build again an England of freedom and sanity. But 
one soldier did not return the one to whom this group looked 
for comradeship and inspiration. ^Dn December 6, 1918, Cecil 
Chesterton died in hospital in France. 

"His courage was heroic, native, positive and equal/* wrote 
Belloc, "always at the highest potentiality of courage. . . ." 

Gilbert wrote: 

He lived long enough to march to the victory which was for 
a supreme vision of liberty and the light. The work which he put 
first he did before he died. The work which he put second, but 
very near to the other, he left for us to do. There are many of us 
who will abandon many other things, and recognize no greater duty 
than to do it. 

This second work was the fight at home against corruption 
and for freedom for the English people. It is impossible to re 
member Gilbert Chesterton vividly and to write the word bitter- 


After the Armistice 421 

ness. It was rather with a profound and burning indignation 
that he thought of his fellow Englishmen who had fought and 
died and then looked up and saw "Marconi George" and 
"Marconi Isaacs/' still rulers of the fate of his country. Thus 
meditating he wrote an "Elegy in a Country Churchyard/' 

The men that worked for England 
They have their graves at home: 
And bees and birds of England 
About the cross can roam. 

But they that fought for England, 
Following a falling star, 
Alas, alas for England 
They have their graves afar. 

And they that rule in England, 
In stately conclave met, 
Alas, alas for England 
They have no graves as yet* 

Strange irony of Cecil Chesterton's last weeks: his old enemy 
Godfrey Isaacs brought an action for perjury against Sir diaries 
Hobhouse. Both men's Counsel agreed and the judge stressed 
that perjury lay on one side or the other. The case was given 
against Isaacs. He appealed and his appeal was dismissed. 
Perjury had kin on one side or the other! 

Meanwhile news came that Rufus Isaacs, BOW Lord Reading, 
had gone with Lloyd George to Paris to attend the Peace Con 
ference. All that this might mean: the peril to Poland: the 
danger of a Prussia kept at the head of the Germanies for the 
sake of international finance: an abasement of England before 
those countries that had not forgotten Marconi: all thi$ was 
Vivid to Gilbert Chesterton. In the same number of the New 
Witness in which he mourned his brother (Dec. 13, 1918), lie 
wrote under "The Sign of the WorH s End" an Open Letter to 
Lord Reading: 

* Collected Poems, p, 65. 

422 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

My Lord I address to you a public letter as it is upon a public 
question: it is unlikely that I should ever trouble you with any 
private letter on any private question; and least of all on the pri 
vate question that now fills my mind. It would be impossible alto 
gether to ignore the irony that has in the last few days brought to 
an end the great Marconi duel in which you and I in some sense 
played the part of seconds; that personal part of the matter ended 
when Cecil Chesterton found death in the trenches to which he 
had freely gone; and Godfrey Isaacs found dismissal in those very 
Courts to which he once successfully appealed. But believe me I do 
not write on any personal matter; nor do I write, strangely enough 
perhaps, with any personal acrimony. On the contrary, there is 
something in these tragedies that almost unnaturally clarifies and 
enlarges the mind; and I think I write partly because I may never 
feel so magnanimous again-. It would be irrational to ask you for 
sympathy; but I am sincerely moved to offer it. You are far more 
unhappy; for your brother is still alive. 

If I turn my mind to you and your type of politics it is not wholly 
and solely through that trick of abstraction by which in moments of 
sorrow a man finds himself staring at a blot on the tablecloth or an 
insect on the ground. I do, of course, realise, with that sort of dull 
clarity, that you are in practise a blot on the English landscape, 
and that the political men who made you are the creeping things 
of the earth. But I am, in all sincerity, less in a mood to mock at 
the sham virtues they parade than to try to imagine the more real 
virtues which they successfully conceal. In your own case there is 
the less difficulty, at least in one matter. I am very willing to believe 
that it was the mutual dependence of the members of your family 
that has necessitated the sacrifice of the dignity and independence 
of my country; and that if it be decreed that the English nation is 
to lose its public honour, it will be partly because certain men of 
the tribe of Isaacs kept their own strange private loyalty. I am willing 
to count this to you for a virtue as your own code may interpret 
virtue; but the fact would alone be enough to make me protest 
against any man professing your code and administering our law. 
And it is upon this point of your public position, and not upon any 
private feelings, that I address you today. 

Not only is there no question of disliking any race, but there is 
not here even a question of disliking any individual. It does not 
raise the question of hating you; rather it would raise, in some 

After the Armistice 423 

strange fashion, the question of loving you. Has it ever occurred to 
you how much a good citizen would have to love you in order to tol 
erate you? Have you ever considered how warm, indeed how wild, 
must be our affection for the particular stray stock-broker who has 
somehow turned into a Lord Chief Justice, to be strong enough to 
make us accept him as Lord Chief Justice"? It is not a question of 
how much we dislike you, but of how much we like you; of whether 
we like you more than England, more than Europe, more than 
Poland the pillar of Europe, more than honour, more than free 
dom, more than facts. It is not, in short, a question of how much we 
dislike you, but of how far we can be expected to adore you, to die 
for you, to decay and degenerate for you; for your sake to be despised, 
for your sake to be despicable. Have you ever considered, in a 
moment of meditation, how curiously valuable you would really 
have to be, that Englishmen should in comparison be careless of 
all the things you have corrupted, and indifferent to all the things 
that you may yet destroy? Are we to lose the War which we have 
already won? That and nothing else is involved in losing the full 
satisfaction of the national claim of Poland. Is there any man who 
doubts that the Jewish International is unsympathetic with that full 
national demand? And is there any man who doubts that you will 
be sympathetic with the Jewish International? No man who knows 
anything of the interior facts of modern Europe has the faintest 
doubt on either point. No man doubts when he knows, whether or 
no he cares. Do you seriously imagine that those who know, that 
those who care, are so idolatrously infatuated with Rufus Daniel 
Isaacs as to tolerate such risk, let alone such ruin? Are we to set up 
as the standing representative of England a man wlio is a standing 
joke against England? That and nothing else is invoiced in setting 
up the chief Marconi Minister as our chief Foreign Minister. It is 
precisely in those foreign countries with which such a minisfcec 
would have to deal, that his name would be, and has been, a sort 
of pantomime proverb like Panama or the South Sea Bubble, 
Foreigners were not threatened with fine and imprisonment for call 
ing a spade a spade and a speculation a speculation; foreigners were 
not punished with a perfectly lawless law of libel for saying about 
public men what those very men had afterwards tso admit in public. 
Foreigners were lookers-on who were really allowed to see most of 
ilie game, when our public saw nothing of the game; oxd they raadfe 
not a little game of it. Are tfaey faoacefordi to make game 

424 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

thing that is said and done in the name of England in the affairs 
of Europe? Have you the serious impudence to call us Anti-Semites 
because we are not so extravagantly fond of one particular Jew as 
to endure this for him alone? No, my lord; the beauties of your 
character shall not so blind us to all elements of reason and self- 
preservation; we can still control our affections; if we are fond of 
you, we are not quite so fond of you as that. If we are anything but 
Anti-Semite, we are not Pro-Semite in that peculiar and personal 
fashion; if we are lovers, we will not kill ourselves for love. After 
weighing and valuing all your virtues, the qualities of our own 
country take their due and proportional part in our esteem. Because 
of you she shall not die. 

We cannot tell in what fashion you yourself feel your strange 
position, and how much you know it is a false position. I have 
sometimes thought I saw in the faces of such men as you that you 
felt the whole experience as unreal, a mere masquerade; as I myself 
might feel it if, by some fantastic luck in the old fantastic civilisa 
tion of China, I were raised from the Yellow Button to the Coral 
Button, or from the Coral Button to the Peacock's Feather. Precisely 
because these things would be grotesque, I might hardly feel them 
as incongruous. Precisely because they meant nothing to me I might 
be satisfied with them, I might enjoy them without any shame at 
my own impudence as an alien adventurer. Precisely because I could 
not feel them as dignified, I should not know what I had degraded. 
My fancy may be quite wrong; it is but one of many attempts I 
have made to imagine and allow for an alien psychology in this 
matter; and if you, and Jews far worthier than you, are wise they 
will not dismiss as Anti-Semitism what may well prove the last 
serious attempt to sympathise with Semitism. I allow for your posi 
tion more than most men allow for it; more, most assuredly, than 
most men will allow for it in the darker days that yet may come. 
It is utterly false to suggest that either I or a better man than I, 
whose work I now inherit, desired this disaster for you and yours, 
I wish you no such ghastly retribution. Daniel son of Isaac. Go in 
peace; but go. 



In those last sentences the spirit of prophecy was upon 
Chesterton after a truly dark and deep fashion. Yet even he did 

After the Armistice 425 

not guess that the retribution he feared would fall, not upon 
that "tribe of Isaacs" thus established in English government, but 
upon the unfortunate Jewish people as a whole, from the 
German nation that Isaacs had gone to Paris to protect. For 
there was no doubt in Chesterton's mind that it was his work at 
the Peace Conference to strive for the survival of Prussia, no 
matter how Europe and the rest of the Germanics suffered. 
The New Witness hated the Treaty of Versailles in its eventual 
form as much as Hitler hates it, but for a very different rea 

All human judgments are limited and no doubt there was a 
mixture of truth and error in Chesterton's view of the years that 
followed. But in the universal reaction from the war-spirit to 
Pacifism the truths he was urging received scant attention, his 
really amazing prophecies fell on deaf ears. "He will almost cer 
tainly/' Monsignor Knox has said,* "be remembered as a 
prophet, in an age of false prophets." And it is not insignificant 
that today it has become the fashion to say, as he said twenty- 
five years ago and steadily reiterated, that the peace of 1918 was 
only an armistice. 

Just before leaving England for the Front, Cecil had married 
Miss Ada Jones, who had long worked with him on the paper, 
and who continued to write both for it and later for G.fC's 
WeefcJj, doing especially the dramatic criticism under the pen- 
name of J. K. Prothero. Later on she was to become famous for 
her exploit in spending a fortnight investigating in the guise of 
a tramp the London of down-and-out women. She wrote In 
Darkest London and founded the Cecil Houses to improve the 
very bad conditions she had discovered and in memory of her 
husband. At this date Mrs. Cecil Chesterton visited Poland and 
wrote a series of articles describing the Polish struggle for Mfe 
and freedom. Several Poles also contributed articles to the paper. 
There was not I imagine on the staff one single writer with the 

* In tlie panegyric ppeacfeed in Westainster Cathedral, June 27, 1936, 

426 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

kind of ignorance that enabled Lloyd George to confess in Paris 
that he did not know where Teschen was. 

Here was the first tragedy of Versailles. The representatives 
of hoth America and England were ignorant of the reality of 
Europe: Wilson was (as Chesterton often said) a much better 
man than Lloyd George, but he knew as little of the world 
which he had come to reconstruct. He was, too, a political 
doctrinaire preferring "what was not there" in the shape of a 
League of Nations to the real nations of Poland or Italy. And 
with the American as with the Welshman international finance 
stood beside the politicians and whispered in their ears. An 
interesting article appeared in the New Witness by an American 
who said that no leading journal in his own country would print 
it any more than any English one. He described the opposition 
of masses of ordinary Americans to the League of Nations and 
how a Chicago banker, who however had no international inter 
ests, had heartily agreed with this opposition. But the same 
banker had written to him next day eating his own words. In 
the interim he had met the other bankers. This American cor 
respondent held with the New Witness that the League of 
Nations was mainly a device of international finance so framed 
as to enlist also the support of pacifist idealists who really 
believed it would make for peace. 

Only one thing, said the New Witness, would make for a 
stable peace: remove Prussia from her position at the head of 
Germany: make her regaining of it impossible. Make a strong 
Poland, and a strong Italy, as well as a strong France. Later on 
they said they had disapproved of the weakening of Austria, 
but though I do not doubt that this is true in principle I cannot 
find much mention of Austria in the paper: Poland, Italy and 
Ireland fill their columns and the freeing of England. 

They claimed that theirs was in the main the policy of 
Clemenceau but both Chesterton and Belloc admitted that 
Clemenceau, even if he desired a strong Poland as a barrier 

After the Armistice 427 

between Germany and Russia, shared with his colleagues an 
equal responsibility in the destruction of Austria which proved 
so fatal. He was too much a freemason to desire many Catholic 
states. The interests of France were not those of Italy, which 
certainly went to the wall and was turned thereby from friend 
and ally into enemy. And the New Witness summed up the fate 
of Ireland in the suggestion that Lloyd George had said to 
Wilson: "If you won't look at Ireland, I won't look at Mexico/' 
Both Lloyd George and Wilson were too anti-Catholic to do 
other than dislike (in Lloyd George's case hate is the word) 
Catholic Poland, It is certain that Lloyd George in particular 
worked savagely against the Poland that should have been. A 
commission appointed by the Peace Conference reported in 
favour of Poland owning the port of Danzig and territory 
approximating to her age-long historic boundaries and in par 
ticular including East Prussia in which there was still a majority 
of Poles: Lloyd George sent back the report for revision: they 
made it again on the same lines. 

It was a strange anomaly that this man should have sat at tlie 
Council Table representing a great country. In the past men tiad 
sat there who not only knew much of Europe themselves but 
who had as their advisers the Foreign office with all its experi- 
ei*ce and tradition. Belloc pointed out in an article on Versailles 
tliat the English tradition had been to hold a balance between 
conflicting extremes and thus to bring about a peace that at 
feast ensured stability for a long period. But here was a man too 
ignorant to realize the dangers of his own ignorance and there 
fore seek help from experience. This peace would be y Belloc 
foretold, the parent of many wars. The Czechs got: much of what 
they wanted jest as d'Annunzk> got Flume foe Italy by semng 
it. Poland waited for Versailles and trusted her allies, yet while 
the Peace Conference was actually in session Germans wexe 
persecuting Poles in East Prussia so that many thousands dE 
them fled into Poland proper and thus diminished the Poiisii 

428 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

population of East Prussia before any plebiscite could be taken 

Lloyd George and Churchill sent a British expeditionary 
force to Archangel to assist the 'White'' Russians but when the 
Bolsheviks invaded Poland she was not supported. Nor did 
the Allies send her the raw material they had promised, to 
rebuild her commercial life. Again and again our papers reported 
pogroms in Poland. Yet close investigation by writers for the 
New Witness failed to discover any pogroms in the cities in 
which they were reported as occurring. 

Powerful are the words in which, in April 1919, Chesterton 
foretells the future that will result if power and her historic port 
are refused to Poland. 

. . . We know that a flood threatens the West from the meeting 
of two streams, the revenge of Germany and the anarchy of Russia; 
and we know that the West has only one possible dyke against such 
a flood, which is not the mere existence, but the might and majesty 
of Poland. We know that without some such Christian and chivalric 
shield on that side, we shall have half Europe and perhaps half 
Asia on our backs. 

We know exactly what the Germans think about our nationali 
ties in the West, and exactly what the Bolshevists think about any 
nationalities anywhere. We know that if the Poles have a port and 
a powerful line of communication with the West, they will be eager 
to help the West. We know that if they have no port they will have 
no reason to help the West and no power to help anybody. We know 
that if they lose their port it will not be by any act of English pub 
lic opinion or any public opinion, but by the most secret of all 
secret diplomacy; that it will not even be given up by the English 
to the Germans, but by German Jews to other German Jews. We 
know that such international adventurers would still find them 
selves floating on the top of any tide that drowned the nations, and 
that they do not care what nations they drown. We know that out 
of the whole world the Polish port is the one place that should have 
been held, and the one place that is being surrendered. 

In short, we know what everybody knows and scarcely anybody 

After the Armistice 429 

There is one word to be added for those detached persons who 
see no particular objection to England ceasing to be English, who 
do not care about the national names of the West, which have been 
the greatest words in the poetry of the world. So far as we know 
there is only one ideal they do care about, and they will not get it. 
Whatever else this betrayal means it does not mean peace. The Poles 
have raised revolution after revolution, when three colossal Empires 
prevented them from being a nation at all. It is not in the realm 
of sanity to suppose that, if we make them half a nation, they will 
not some day attempt to be a whole nation* But we shall come back 
to the place where we started, after another cycle of terror and tor 
ment 2nd abominable butchery and to a place where we might, in 
peace and perfect safety, stand firm today. 

"Not by any act of English public opinion" would Poland be 
weakened, not by any act of English opinion Prussia strength 
ened or Ireland oppressed. It was the horror of the situation that 
no act of English public opinion seemed possible, for the organs 
of action were stultified. When they could act by fighting and 
by dying Englishmen had done it grandly. Not all that they had 
<lone had, Chesterton believed, been lost. Because of them the 
Cross once more had replaced the crescent over the Holy City 
of Jerusalem, because of them Alsace and Lorraine were French 
once more and Poland lived again. But their sufferings and 
their death had not availed yet to save England. 

And what is theirs, though banners blow on Warsaw risen again, 
Or ancient laughter walks in gold through the vineyards of Lorraine, 
Their dead are marked on English stores, their loves on English 


How little is the prize they win, how mean a coin for these 
How small a shrivelled laurel-leaf lies crumpled here and curled: 
They died to save their country and they only saved the world.* 

In the New Witness he wrote (July 2,5, 19*9): 

On Peace Day I set up outside my house two torches, and twined 
them with laurel; because I tfaOTght a least there was 
* Collected Poems, pp. 79-80, *T^e Engpsli 

430 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

pacifist about laurel. But that night, after the bonfire and the fire 
works had faded, a wind grew and blew with gathering violence, 
blowing away the rain. And in the morning I found one of the 
laurelled posts torn off and lying at random on the rainy ground; 
while the other still stood erect, green and glittering in the sun. 
I thought that the pagans would certainly have called it an omen; 
and it was one that strangely fitted my own sense of some great 
work half fulfilled and half frustrated. And I thought vaguely of 
that man in Virgil, who prayed that he might slay his foe and 
return to his country; and the gods heard half the prayer, and the 
other half was scattered to the winds. For I knew we were right to 
rejoice; since the tyrant was indeed slain and his tyranny fallen for 
ever; but I know not when we shall find our way back to our own 

English soldiers in Ireland felt, as we all remember, a strong 
sympathy with the Irish people: most of them, said the New 
Witness, became Sinn Feiners. This was an exaggeration, but 
certainly their opposition to acting as terrorists led to the em 
ployment in their stead of the jail-birds known as Black and 

And in England itself the feeling was stirring that grew 
stronger as the years passed. The soldiers, who were the nation, 
had won the victory, the politicians had thrown it away. A 
rushed election before most of the men were demobilized had 
brought back the same old politicians by turning, so G.K. put it, 
"collusion" into "coalition/' A Coalition Government had been 
in war-time "comprehensible and defensible; precisely because 
it is not concerned with construction or reconstruction but only 
with the warding off of destruction/' A peace-time coalition 
could do nothing but show up the absurdity of the old party 
labels. For if these meant anything they meant that their wearers 
wanted an entirely different kind of construction, at which 
therefore they could not collaborate. How could a real Tory 
co-operate in construction with a genuine Radical? It was the 
culmination of unreality. 

After the Armistice 431 

The idea that it succeeded (for the moment) because the 
country really believed that Lloyd George had won the war 
seemed to Chesterton the crowning absurdity. It succeeded be 
cause the party machines combined to finance their candidates 
and offered them to a rather dazed country whose men were 
still in great numbers under arms. 'There is naturally no dis 
sentient when hardly anybody seems to be sentient. Indiffer 
ence is called unanimity." 

How then could this indifference be thrown off: How could 
the returning manhood of the nation be given a true democ 
racy: was there still hope? If there was, never had the New 
Witness been more needed than now. It had told the truth 
about political corruption, today it had to fight it: "We are not 
divided now into those who know and those who do not know. 
We are divided now into those who care and those who do not 
care/' Thus wrote Chesterton in an article about his own con 
tinued editorship of the paper. 

Politics would never have been my province, either in the highest 
or the lowest sense. ... I have hitherto known myself to be merely 
a stop-gap; but my action, or rather inaction, as a stop-gap, has come 
terribly to an end. That gap will never be filled now, till God restores 
all the noble ruin that we name the world; and the wisest know 
best that the gap will yawn as hopelessly in, the history of England 
as in the story of our private lives, I must BOW either accept tins 
duty entirely or abandon it entirely. I will not abandon it; for every 
instinct and nerve of intelligence I have tells me that this is a time 
when it must not be abandoned. I must accept a comparison that 
must be a contrast, and a crushing contrast; but though I can never 
be so good as my brother, I will see if I can be better than myself. 

The same attacks on financiers and others constantly re 
iterated might well have put Gilbert in the dock where Iiis 
brother had stood. But I think the upshot of the case against 
Cecil had not been entirely eixxnimging to the winners. Then 
too, G.K.'s immense popularity made such an attack a still 

432 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

doubtful move. Cecil had been less well-known than Gilbert: 
but far better-known than a Mr. Fraser and a Mr. Beamish, a 
pair of cranks against whom Sir Alfred Mond brought a libel 
action in 1919 for having in a placard shown in a window in 
a back street called him a traitor and accused him of having 
traded with the enemy. 

In this case Sir Alfred Mond (of the Mond Nickel Company) 
giving evidence: "said that he always disregarded charges made 
by irresponsible persons. Charges had been made against him 
in the New Witness, which was edited by Mr. Gilbert Chester 
ton. All the world regarded Mr. Chesterton as 'irresponsible/ 
but he was certainly amusing, and he (the witness) had read 
most of his books. He had once procured with some difficulty 
a copy of the New Witness" His LORDSHIP Did Mr. Chester 
ton charge the witness with being a traitor? Mr. SMITH (Coun 
sel for the defence) Yes, in the New Witness* 

"Irresponsible" was not quite the mot juste. The unfortunate 
Fraser and Beamish were not of the metal to win that or any 
case in that or any court. There was a kind of solemn buffoon 
ery in choosing these two as responsible opponents in preference 
to the irresponsible G.K. Chesterton. At any rate damages of 
5000 were given against them which gives some measure of 
the risk G.K. took in making exactly the same attacks. 

Gilbert had not so much natural buoyancy as Cecil: he got 
far less fun out of making these attacks. Still less had he the 
recklessness that made Cecil indifferent even to the charge of 
inaccuracy. That charge was in fact the only one that Gilbert 
feared. Writing to a contributor whose article he had held back 
in order to verify an accusation made in it, Gilbert remarked 
that he had no fear of a lawsuit when he was certain of his 
facts: he did not fear fine or imprisonment: he had one fear 
only, "I am afraid of being answered." 

There was another thing he feared: hurting or distressing Ms 

* Times report of Mond v. Fraser and Another, Dec. 3rd, 1919. 

After the Armistice 433 

friends. This was especially a danger for one, so many of whose 
friends were also his opponents in politics or religion: and who 
was now editing a paper of so controversial a character. With 
H. G. Wells he had a real bond of affection, and an interesting 
correspondence with and about him illustrates all Gilbert's qual 
ities: consideration for his subordinates: for his friendships; con 
cern for the integrity of his paper: sense of responsibility to 
Cecil's memory. 

During an editorial absence the assistant editor, Mr. Titterton, 
had accepted a series of articles called "Big Little H. G, Wells" 
from Edwin Pugh, which seemed to be turning into an attack on 
Welk instead of an appreciation. Chesterton wrote to Mr. 
Titterton and simultaneously to Wells himself 


The sudden demands of other duties, which I really could not 
see how to avoid, has prevented my attending to the New Witness 
lately: and I have only just heard, on the telephone, that you have 
written a letter to the paper touching an unfortunate difference 
between you and Edwin Pugh. I don't yet know the contents of 
your letter but of course I have told my locum tenens that it is to 
be printed whatever it is, this week or next. I am really exceedingly 
distressed to have been out of the business at the time; but if you 
knew the circumstances I think you would see the difficulty; and my 
editorial absei*ce has not been a holiday. As it is, I agreed to the 
general idea of a study of your work by Pugh; and I coefess it never 
even crossed my mind that anybody would write such a thing except 
as a tribute to your genius and the intellectual interest of die subject; 
nor can 1 believe it now. It may strike you as so ironical as to be 
incredible; but it is really one of those ironies that are also facts, 
that I rather welcomed the idea of a criticism in the paper (which 
so often differs from you) from a modernist and coflectivist stand 
point nKHe like your own. I should imagine Pugit would ag^ee with 
you more than I do, and not less. I wffl not pcejudge Ae quanei 
tffl I uikfersfcaBd more of it; but I now write at ooce to tsell you tliat 
I would BO dream of tolerating anything meant to be a meie per 
sonal attack on you, even if I jeesigneci say post on the pafe; m& 
I had already written to tbe office 10 say sa But I do not befese for 

434 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

a moment that Pugh means any such thing; I regarded him as a 
strong Wellsian and even more of an admirer than myself; though 
he might be so modern as to use a familiar and mixed method of 
portraiture, which is too modern for my tastes, but which many 
use besides he. For the moment I suggest a possible misunderstand 
ing, which he may well correct by a further explanation. I had said 
something myself in my weekly article, demurring to a possible 
undervaluing of you, long before I heard of your own letter. Even 
when I am in closer touch with things, of course, many things 
appear in the paper with which I wholly disagree; but the notion of 
a mere campaign against you would always have seemed to me as 
abominable and absurd as it does now; I do not believe any one can 
entertain it; and certainly I do not. I am perfectly willing to do you 
anything that can fairly be shown to be justice, whether it were 
explanation or apology or anything else. This is all I can say without 
your letter and Pugh's side of the case; but I feel I should say this 
at once. 

Yours sincerely, 


P.S. I have arranged for your letter to appear in next week's num 
ber; but I may have more light on Pugh's attitude by then. 

To Titterton he wrote: 

... I do hope this work will not turn into anything that looks like 
a mere attack on Wells, especially in the rather realistic and personal 
modern manner, which I am perhaps too Victorian myself to care 
very much about. I do not merely feel this because I have managed 
to keep Wells as a friend on the whole. I feel it much more (and I 
know you are a man to understand such sentiments) because I have 
a sort of sense of honour about him as an enemy, or at least a poten 
tial enemy. We are so certain to collide in controversial warfare, that 
I have a horror of his thinking I would attack him with anything but 
fair controversial weapons. My feeling is so entirely consistent with 
a faith in Pugh's motives, as well as an admiration of his talents, that 
I honestly believe I could explain this to him without offence. . . . 
I am honestly in a very difficult position on the New Witness, 
because it is physically impossible for me peally to edit it, and also 
do enough outside work to be able to edit it unpaid, as well as hav 
ing a little over to give it from time to time. What we should have 
done without the loyalty and capacity of you and a few others I 

After the Armistice 435 

can't imagine. I cannot oversee everything that goes into the paper, 
... I cannot resign, without dropping as you truly said, the work of 
a great man who is gone; and who, I feel, would wish me to continue 
it. It is like what Stevenson said about marriage and its duties: 
"There is no refuge for you; not even suicide." But I should have to 
consider even resignation, if I felt that the acceptance of Pugh's 
generosity really gave him the right to print something that I really 
felt bound to disapprove. It may be that I am needlessly alarmed over 
a slip or two of the pen, in vivid descriptions of a very odd character, 
and that Pugh really admires his Big Little H. G. as much as I 
thought he did at the beginning of the business. ... If the general 
impression on the reader's mind is of the Big Wells end not the Little 
Wells, I think the doubt I mean would really be met. 

Somehow the letter to Titterton got into the hands of a Mr. 
Hermessy who, after Gilbert's death, sent it to Wells. 

Wells wrote, 'Thank you very much for that letter of 
G.K.C/S. It is exactly like him. From first to last he and I were 
very close friends and never for a moment did I consider him 
responsible for Pugh's pathetic and silly little outbreak. I never 
knew anyone so steadily true to form as G.K.C." 

Besides the cleansing of public life two other things were 
seen as vital by the New Witness, the restoration of well- 
distributed property and the restoration of liberty. Under the 
heading "Reconstruction of Property" Belloc set out a series of 
proposals, highly practical and very far from what is usually 
called revolutionary: that savings for instance made on a small 
scale should be helped by a very high rate of interest; that the 
purchase by small men of small parcels of land or businesses or 
houses should be freed from legal charges while these should 
be made heavier for those who purchased on a large scale thus 
encouraging small property and cheeking huge accumulation. 
He pointed out how vast suras could be found for such sub 
sidies out of the money spent today on an education which the 
poor detested for their children and which most of the wealthy 
admitted to be an abject failure. Most of those, he notei wiio 

436 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

oppose Distributism do so on the ground that the proposals are 
unpractical or revolutionary, which generally means that they 
have not examined the proposals. His own were certainly prac 
tical and would by many be called reactionary. But he admitted 
one doubt besides the overwhelming difficulty of turning the 
current of modern socialism the doubt whether Englishmen 
from long disuse had not lost the appetite for property. 

Chesterton's own line of approach to the double problem was 
also twofold. In a volume of Essays published near the end of 
the war and called The Utopia of Usurers he remarked: "That 
anarchic future which the more timid Tories professed to fear 
has already fallen upon us. We are ruled by ignorant people/' 

The old aristocracy of England, in his view, had made many 
mistakes but certain things they had understood very well. The 
modern governing class "cannot face a fact, or follow an argu 
ment, or feel a tradition; but least of all can they, upon any 
persuasion read through a plain impartial book, English or 
foreign, that is not specially written to soothe their panic or to 
please their pride." There had been reality in the claim of the 
old aristocracy to understand matters not known to the people. 
They had read history: they were familiar with other languages 
and other lands. They had a great tradition of foreign 
diplomacy. Even the study of philosophy and theology, today 
confined to a handful of experts, was not alien to them. On all 
this had rested what right they had to govern. But today 'They 
rule them by the smiling terror of an ancient secret. They smile 
and smile but they have forgotten the secret." 

On the other hand the ordinary workman had the advantage 
over his probably millionaire master by the necessity of knowing 
something. He must be able to use his tools, he must know 
"enough arithmetic to know when prices have risen." The hard 
business of living taught him something. Give him a chance of 
more through property and liberty and see what he will build 
on that foundation. The war had already shown not only the 

After the Armistice 437 

courage of our men but their contrivance: their trench news 
papers, songs and jests: their initiative as sailors and as airmen: 
at home the same thing was happening. Allotments had sprung 
up everywhere and solved the problem of potato shortage. Men 
were doing for themselves a rough land of building. The in 
clination to get away from the machine and do things oneself 
was on the increase. 

Armistice and the men's return were heralded by outdoor 
tea-parties with ropes stretched across the streets for safety. The 
outburst of pageants was spontaneous and national. "It is time/' 
said Chesterton, '-for an army of amateurs; for England is perish 
ing of the professionals." Vitality seemed to be flowing back 
into national life, but Bureaucracy does not love vitality. Agi 
tated Town Councils met and stopped the tea-parties; fought 
against street markets through which allotment holders could 
sell their produce cheaply; put heavy rates on land reclaimed 
and buildings erected by hard work. Town families living in 
single rooms had secured plots on building estates and run up 
shacks for themselves and their families. They were forbidden 
to live in these dwellings only intended as temporary, but ar 
more healthy than living eight people to- a room in a slum. "The 
New Witness suspected that the real objection in the eyes of 
CbtmdHors was a lowering of the value of neighbouring plots 
for wealthier purchasers. 

Worst of aH, the allotments were taken: fields sold for specu 
lative building, land dug in public parks taken away in the name 
of "amenities." The little spark that could have been fanned 
into a flame was crusted out. 

An episode of a few years later best illustrates die spirit 
Chesterton was fighting. In 1926 a threat arose to die traffic 
nKmopoly from soldiers who pit their war gratuities ie&> the 
purchase of omnibuses which diey diwe themselves. The Lon 
don General Omnibes Ccrapaay decided 10 crust diem m& 
with the aid of a Gavenraieiit: CeraiaissKm succeeded Chester- 

43 8 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

ton's paper followed the struggle with passionate interest. Just 
as he believed that the small shop actually served the public 
better than the large, so too he believed that these owner-drivers 
would serve it better than the Combine. But if it could have been 
proved that the Combine was more efficient Gilbert would still 
have championed the Independents. It was better for the Com 
munity that men should take responsibility and initiative for 
themselves even if the work could be done more efficiently by 
wage slaves. To his dismay he found that the Trade Unions did 
not dream of applying this test and that they were aligned against 
the Pirates as the independent owners were usually called. 

He had always been an ardent supporter of the Trade Unions. 
*To him it had seemed they were trying to do the work of the 
ancient Guilds under far more difficult conditions. But after the 
war for the first time a little note of doubt creeps into his voice 
when he is speaking of them. They were still vocal for the rights 
of labour, but they had begun to lay stress exclusively on the less 
important of those rights. 

Writing of the loss of the allotments he suggested in one 
article that the Trades Unions might well use some part of their 
funds in purchasing land to be held in perpetuity by their mem 
bers. But I doubt if he much expected that they would do so. 
Many Trade Unionists were working for the Bus Company and 
were more concerned about their conditions of work than about 
the handful of drivers who were their own masters. But the 
Unions had begun to stress almost solely the question of hours 
and of wages: to fight for good conditions but no longer for 
control or ownership: to demand security but to agree to 
abandon many of their rights in return. 

It was a chill fear and for long he resisted it, but in these 
terrible years it had begun to shake him. Were the people of 
England losing the appetite for freedom and for property? 
Were the Trades Unions, from lack of leadership and confusion 
of thought, beginning to accept the Servile State? 

Rome via Jerusalem 

AFTER THE war Gilbert and Frances set out on 
their travels, going in 1919 to Palestine, home through 
Italy early in 1920, and starting out again the following year 
for a lecture tour in the United States. 

To his friendship with Maurice Baring Gilbert owed their 
being able to make the first of these journeys as well as much 
else. The picture entitled "Conversation Piece" of Chesterton, 
Belloc and Baring is well known. Was it Chesterton himself 
who christened it "Baring, Overbearing and Past Bearing?*' 
Many elements united the three in a close friendship: love of 
literature, love of Europe, a common view of the philosophy of 
history and of life. Frances Chesterton often said that of aH her 
husband's friends she thought there was none he loved better 
than Maurice Baring. They often wrote Ballades together a 
French form which they, with Phillimore and others, had re- 
popularised in English. A telegram from Gilbert refusing a 
celebration runs like a refrain: 

Prince, Yorkshire holds me IK>W 
By Yorkshire hams I'm fed 
I can't assist your row 
I send ballades instead. 

These "Ballades Urbane" were a feature in the New W&ness 
but many of those the three friends composed were strictly not 
for publication but recited to friends behind closed doors, Gil 
bert's memory was useful: he knew all his own and tke otfaeis: 


440 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Once Belloc forgot the Envoi to one of his own ballades and 
Gilbert finished it for him. Even to Maurice Baring, G.K. wrote 
less often than he intended and one apologetic Ballade carries 
the refrain: 

I write no letters to the men I love. 

I have always fancied that Maurice Baring gave Gilbert the 
idea for his story The Man Who Knew Too Much. First in the 
diplomatic service, then doing splendidly as an airman in the 
war, a member of the great banking family, related to most of 
the aristocracy and intimate with most of the rest, he is like the 
hero of the book in a sort of detachment, a slight irony about a 
world that he has not cared to conquer. Impossible for a mere 
acquaintance to say whether he views that world with all the 
disillusionment of Chesterton's hero but anyhow such a sug 
gestion from life is never more than a hint for creative art. 
Another side is seen in the Autobiography in the stories of 
Maurice Baring plunging into the sea in evening dress on the 
occasion of his fiftieth birthday, and of the smashing by Gilbert 
of a wine-glass that became in retrospect a priceless goblet 
Cwhich had "stood by Charlemagne's great chair and served St. 
Peter at High Mass") and now inspired the refrain: 

I like the sound of breaking glass. 

A good deal of glass was broken by the stones of this group of 
men whose own house was made of tolerably strong materials. 

There is quite a bundle of Mr. Baring's letters to Gilbert, and, 
in spite of the apologetic ballade, a fair number of answers. 
Two of these last are written early in 1919, the second of which 
opens the question of the Jerusalem visit: 

May 23, 1919 

I am the Prince of unremembered towers destroyed before the 
birth o Babylon; I am also the [writer] of unremembered letters, 

Rome via Jerusalem 441 

and to a much greater extent the designer and imaginer of unwritten 
letters: and I cannot remember whether I ever acknowledged 
properly your communications about Claudel, especially your inter 
esting remarks about the comparative coolness of Henri de Regnier 
about him. It struck me because I think it is part of something I 
have noticed myself; a curious and almost premature conservatism 
in the older generation of revolutionaries, particularly when they 
were pagan revolutionaries. Not that I suppose de Regnier is par 
ticularly old or in the stock sense a revolutionist; but I think you 
will know the break between the generations to which I refer. I 
remember having exactly the same experience the only time I ever 
talked to Swinburne. I had regarded (and resisted) him in my 
boyhood as a sort of Antichrist in purple, like Nero holding his 
lyre, and I found him more like a very well-read Victorian old 
maid, almost entirely a laudator temporis acti disposed to say that 
none of the young men would ever come up to Tennyson- which 
may be quite true for all I know. I fancy it has something to do 
with the very fact that their revolt was pagan, and being temporal 
was also temporary. When that particular fashion in caps of liberty 
has gone out, they have nothing to fall back on but the feeling 
which Swinburne himself puts into the mouth of the pagan cm the 
day when Constantine issued the proclamation. 

"But to me their new device is barren, the days are bare 
Things long gone over suffice, and men forgotten that weaoe.* 

I only tell you all this because you might find it amusing to iseep 
an eye on dbe New Statesman as well as the Hem Witness, wibe^e 
there is a small repetition of the same thing. Bernard Slfaaw lias 
written an article which is supposed to be about his view of me 
and Socialism; but which may be said more truly to be about his 
blindness to Hilary and his Servile State. It is quite startling to me 
to find Bow wholly he misses Hilary's point; and "haw wMy fae 
falls back cm a sort of elderfy impatraice with ecu: juvenile paradox 
and fantasticality, I shall answer him as abusively as my great per 
sonal liking for him will allow and I think Hilary is going fe> cfo 
the same; so if you ever see such papers, you might enjoy the 

Yours always, 


442. Gilbert Keith Chesterton 


Thank you ever so much for your interesting letter. I think you 
are right every time about Gosse and Claudel; or rather about 
Claudel and Gosse. For though I think Gosse a very valuable old 
Victorian in his way, I do not think he is on the same scale as the 
things that have lately been happening in the world; and Claudel 
is one of them* He has happened like a great gun going off; and I 
think I saw a line of his on the subject of such a discharge of 
artillery in the war. It ran, "And that which goes forth is France; 
terrible as the Holy Ghost/' I doubt if Gosse has ever seen that 
France even in, a flash and a bang; I don't see how he could. Re 
member the religion in which he grew up, by his own very graphic 
account of it; a man is not entirely emancipated from such very pos 
itive Puritanism by anything so negative as Agnosticism. Nothing 
but a religion can cast out a religion. Being so sensitive on behalf 
of Renan is simply not understanding the great historical passions 
about a heresiarch. It means that famous intellectuals must not 
hate each other; because they all belong to the Savile Club. Please 
do not think I mean merely that Gosse is a snob; I think he is a 
jolly old gentleman and a good critic of French poetry; but not of 
Gesta Dei Per Francos. Your points against him are quite logical; 
I suppose the controversy will not be conducted in public, or I 
should feel inclined to join in it. Anyhow, I wish it could be con 
tinued between us as a conversation in private, for I have long 
wanted to talk to you about serious things. 

Meanwhile, as not wholly unconnected with the serious things, 
could you possibly do me a great favour? It is very far from being 
the first great favour you have done me; and I should fear that 
anyone less magnanimous would fancy I only wrote to you about 
such things. But the situation is this. An excellent offer has been 
made to me to write a book about Jerusalem, not political but 
romantic and religious, so to speak; I conceive it as mostly about 
pilgrimages and crusades, in poetical prose, and working up to 
Allenby's great entrance. The offer includes money to go to Jeru 
salem but cannot include all the political or military permissions 
necessary to go there. I have another motive for wanting to go 
there, which is much stronger than the desire to write the book; 
though I do think I could do it in the right way and, what matters 
more, on the right side. Frances is to come with me, and all the 
doctors in creation tell her she can only get rid of her neuritis if 

Rome via Jerusalem 443 

she goes to some such place and misses part of an English winter. 
I would do anything to bring it off, for that reason alone. You are 
a man who knows everybody; do you know anybody on Allenby's 
staff; or know' anybody who knows anybody on Allenby's staff; 
or know anybody who would know anybody who would know 
anything about it? I am told that it cannot be done as yet in the 
ordinary way by Cook's; and that the oracle must be worked in 
some such fashion. If you should be so kind as to refer to any wor- 
xied soldier or official, I should like it understood that I am not 
nosing about touching any diplomatic or military matter; France 
in Syria, or any copy for the New Witness. I only want to write 
semi-historical rhetoric on the spot. If you could possibly help in 
this matter, I really think you would be helping things you your 
self care about; and one person, not myself, who deserves it, I will 
not say it would be killing two birds with one stone, which might 
seem a tragic metaphor; but bringing one bird at least to life; and 
allowing the other bird, who is a goose, to go on a wild goose- 

Yours always, 


It was much needed change and refreshment for both Gilbert 
and Frances. Her Diary shows a vivid enjoyment of all the 
scenes and happenings: going into the Church of the Nativity 
witii a door "so low you can hardly get inthis doee to prevent 
the cattle from straying in"; seeing camels on the ioof of a ooaa- 
vent; staiKling godmother to an Armenian carpenter's tal>y: 

The officiator in a cape of white silk embroidered ie gold and a 
wonderful crown supposed to represent the temple. The godfather 
(a young man) was in a red velvet gown* After a good many 
prayers and much chanting the babe, beautifully dressed, was 
taken to the font (which was in the side of the wall) and there 
were more prayers and chanting. Then cushions were laid oaa fie 
floor and tlie child undressed, all of us assisting. At this point I 
was asked to stand Godmother and gladly amseined. The b&by, 
by this time quite naked, was handed to the pdest who 

completely under the water three times---givmg him die 
of Pedros (Peter). Before being le^ctothed he was anointed wilt 

444 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

oil the forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, heart, hands and feet all 
being signed with the Cross. The child was by this time crying 
lustily and it was some business to get him dressed, especially as 
he was swaddled in bands very completely. When ready he was 
handed to me and he lay stiff in my arms whilst I held two large 
lighted candles. I followed the priest from the font to the little 
altar, where a chain and a little gold cross were bound round his 
head (signifying that he was now a Christian). Then the priest 
touched his lips with the sacramental wafer, and touched his nose 
with myrrh. After the Blessing, we left the church in a procession, 
the godfather carrying the baby. At the threshold of the house the 
priest took it and delivered it to the mother who sat waiting for it, 
also holding the two candles. Again the priests muttered a few 
prayers and blessed mother, child and godparents. The father is 
an Armenian carpenter by trade very nice people. Mother very 
pretty. The parents insisted that we should stay for refreshments 
and we were handed a very nice liquor in lovely little glasses and 
a very beautiful sort of pastry. Afterwards cups of weak tea and 

The various rites and ceremonies in Jerusalem interested 
Frances deeply but the Diary shows no awareness of the differ 
ences that separated the various kinds of Christians. The Diary 
ends with the return through Rome where she and I met, to the 
surprise of both of us, in the street, while a friend travelling 
with them met my mother. "Both meetings were miraculous/ 1 
Frances comments. Since the letters to my mother during Gil 
bert's illness in 1915 we had heard no more about his spiritual 
pilgrimage. There was much eager talk at this meeting but no 
opportunity occurred and certainly none was sought for any 
confidences. As we waved goodbye after their departing train my 
mother said thoughtfully: "Frances did rather play off Jerusalem 
against Rome, didn't she?" 

In fact, as we learned later, this visit to Jerusalem had been 
a determining factor in Gilbert's conversion. Many people both 
in and outside the Church had been wondering what had so 
long delayed him. The mental progress from the vague Liberal- 

Rome via Jerusalem 445 

ism of the Wild Knight to the splendid edifice of Orthodoxy had 
been a swift one. For the book was written in 1908 and already 
several years earlier in Heretics and in his newspaper contests 
with Blatchford, Gilbert Chesterton had shown his firm belief 
in the Godhead of Our Lord, in Sacraments, in Priesthood and 
in the Authority of the Church. But it was not yet the Catholic 
and Roman Church. There is a revealing passage in the Auto 
biography: "And then I happened to meet Lord Hugh Cecil. I 
met him at the house of Wilfrid Ward, that great clearing house 
of philosophies and theologies. ... I listened to Lord Hugh's 
very lucid statements of his position. . . . The strongest im 
pression I received was that he was a Protestant. I was myself 
still a thousand miles from being a Catholic; but I think it was 
the perfect and solid Protestantism of Lord Hugh that fully 
revealed to me that I was no longer a Protestant/' 

The time that thousand miles took is a real problem the 
years before the illness during which he talked of joining the 
Church, the seven further years before he joined it. Cecil 
Chesterton had been received before the war just at the begin 
ning of the Marconi Case, in fact and the entire outlook of 
both brothers had seemed to make this inevitable, not only 
theologically but sociologically and historically. Alike in their 
outlook on Europe today or on the great ages of the past, it 
was a Catholic civilisation based on Catholic theology that 
seemed to them the only true one for a full and rich human 

|/I think in this matter a special quality and its defect could be 
seen in Gilbert. For most people intensity of thought is much 
more difficult than action. With him it was the opposite. He 
used his mind unceasingly, his body as little as possible. I ie- 
member one day going to see them when he had a sprained 
ankle and learning from Frances how happy it made him be 
cause nobody could bother him to take exercise. The whole of 
practical life he left to her. But joining the Church was BQ 

446 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

only something to be thought about, it was something really 
practical that had to be done, and here Frances could not help 

^ "He will need Frances/' said Father O'Connor to my mother, 
"to take him to church, to find his place in his prayer-book, to 
examine his conscience for him when he goes to Confession. He 
will never take all those hurdles unaided/' Frances never lifted 
a finger to prevent Gilbert from joining the Catholic Church. 
But obviously before she was convinced herself she could not 
help him. The absence of help was in this case a very positive 

vl remember one day on a picnic Gilbert coming up to me 
with a very disconsolate expression and asking where Frances 
was. I said, "I don't know but I can easily find her. Do you 
want her?" He answered, "I don't want her now but I may 
want her at any minute/' Many men depend upon their wives 
but very few men admit it so frankly. And if he was unprac 
tical to a point almost inconceivable, Frances herself could be 
called practical only in comparison with him. The confused mass 
of papers through which she had to hunt to find some important 
document lingers in the memory. 

Another element that made action lag behind conviction with 
Chesterton was his perpetual state of overwork. Physically inac 
tive, his mind was never barren but issued in an immense out 
put: several books every year besides editing and articles: there 
were even two years in which no fewer than six books were 
published. To focus his attention on the deepest matters, it 
was vital to escape from the net of work and worry. 

Returning from Jerusalem, Gilbert wrote from Alexandria 
to Maurice Baring: 


To quote a poet we agree in thinking ridiculously underrated by 
recent fashions, my boat is on the shore and my bark is on the 
sea; but before I go, Tom Moore (if I may so by a flight of fancy 

Rome via Jerusalem 447 

describe you), I feel impelled to send you this hurried line to 
thank you, so far as this atrocious hotel pen will allow me, for the 
wonderful time I have had in Palestine, which is so largely owing 
to you. There is also something even more important I want very 
much to discuss with you; because of certain things that have been 
touched on between us in former times. I will only say here that 
my train, of thought, which really was one of thought and not 
fugitive emotion, came to an explosion in the Church of the Ecce 
Homo in Jerusalem; a church which the guidebooks call new and 
the newspapers call Latin. I fear it may be at least a month before 
we meet; for the journey takes a fortnight and may be prolonged 
by a friend ill in Paris; and I must work the moment I return to 
keep a contract. But if we could meet by about then I could thank 
you better for many things. 

Yours illegibly, 


Hie contract that had to be kept was in all probability the 
writing of The New Jerusalem. It is a glorious book. Until I read 
them more carefully I had always accepted G.K/s own view that 
books of travel were a weak spot in his multifarious output. He 
said of himself that he always tended to see such enormous 
significance in every detail that lie might just as well describe 
railway signals near Beaconsfield as the light of sunset over the 
Golden Horn. But TJie New Jerusalem is no mere book of 
description. It is the book of a man seeing a vision. 

To understand how this vision broke upon him we have first 
to try to understand something jealously hidden by Gilbert 
Chesterton his own suffering. Even as a boy in the days of 
the toothache and still more torturing earache he had written 

Though pain be stark and bitter 
And days in darkness creep 
Not to that depth I sink me 
That asks the world to weep. 

So much did he acclaim himself enrolled under the banner of 
joy that I think most people miss the companion picture to the 

448 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

favourite one of the Happy Warrior. "No warrior can fight un 
tiringly through a long lifetime without wounds, without 
temptations to abandon the struggle and seek a less glorious 
peace. If in what are commonly called practical matters Chester 
ton was weak, he was in this almost superhumanly strong. His 
fame did not rest upon success in the field of sociology and 
politics. He could have increased it by neglecting the good of 
England for which he fought, and living in literature, poetry 
and fantasy. Here all acclaimed him great, whereas most toler 
ated or despised as a hobby or a weakness the work he was 
pouring into the fight for England. In this time after the Armis 
tice it was by a naked effort of the will that he held his ground. 
/The loss of Cecil with his light-hearted courage, his energy and 
buoyancy, was immeasurable. And I know for we talked of it 
together that Frances had not the complete sympathy with 
Gilbert over the paper that she had over his other work. It 
seemed to her too great a drain on his time and energy: it made 
the writing of his important books more difficult. She would not, 
she told me, try to stop it as she knew how much he cared, but 
she would have rejoiced if he had chosen to let it go. 

And the fight that he had almost enjoyed in Cecil's company 
had become a harder one, not merely because he was alone but 
because the nature of the foe had changed. He was fighting now 
not individual abuses but the mood of pessimism that had over 
taken our civilisation. In an Article entitled Is It Too Late? he 
defined this pessimism as "a paralysis of the mind; an impotence 
intrinsically unworthy of a free man/' He stated powerfully the 
case of those who held that our civilisation was dying and that 
it was too late to make any further efforts: 

The future belongs to those who can find a real answer to that 
real case. . . . The omens and the auguries are against us. There 
is no answer but one; that omens and auguries are heathen things; 
and that we are not heathens. . . . We are not lost unless we lose 

From a photograph by Alice Boughton 

Rome via Jerusalem 449 

ourselves. . . . Great Alfred, in the darkness of the Ninth Cen 
tury, when the Danes were beating at the door, wrote down on his 
copy of Boethius his denial of the doctrine of fate. We, who have 
been brought up to see all the signs of the times pointing to im 
provement, may live to see all the signs in heaven and earth point 
ing the other way. If we go on it must be in another name tfrm that 
of the Goddess of Fortune. 

/ It was that other Name, in which he had so long believed, 
that he realised with the freshness of novelty on this journey to 
Jerusalem. He made in the Holy City and in the fields of 
Palestine a new discovery of Christ and of the Christian Thing. 
As he looked over the Dead Sea and almost physically realised 
what evil meant, he heard the voice of the divine Deliverer say 
ing to the demons: "Go forth and trouble him not any more." In 
the cave at Bethlehem he realised the "little local infancy" 
whereby the creator of the world had chosen to redeem the 
world. All through the book there are glimpses of what he tells 
more fully in The Everlasting Man. Between die two books all 
that he had seen and thought in Palestine lay in bis mind, and 
grew there, and fructified for our understanding. But he tad 
seen it all in that first vision* 

Jerusalem first impressed Chesterton as a mediaeval city and 
from its turrets he could readily picture Godfrey de Bouillon, 
Ridiard the lion-Hearted and Saint Louis of France. Through 
the Crusades he views what was meant by Christendom and sets 
over against it at once the greatness and the barrenness of 

The Moslem had one thought, and that a most vital one; the 
greatness of God which levels all men. But the Moslem had not 
one thought to rub against another, ^because he really had not 
another. It is the friction of two spiritual things, of tradition and 
invention, or of substance and symbol, from which the mind tales 
fire. The Creeds condemned as complex have something life && 

Jt O 

secret of sex; they can breed thoughts. 

450 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

Today we of Christendom have fallen below ourselves but 
yet we have something left of the power to create whether it be 
a theology or a civilisation. Talking to an old Arab in the desert, 
Chesterton heard him say that in all these years of Turkish rule 
the Turks had never given to the people a cup of cold water. 
And as the old man spoke he heard the clank of pipes and he 
knew that it was the English soldiers who were bringing water 
through the desert to Jerusalem. 

A chapter on Zionism discusses with sympathy to both parties 
the difficulties of the Jewish settlement in Palestine. In Palestine 
he found his Jewish friend and co-worker on the New Witness, 
Dr. Eder, who had gone there ardent in the cause of Zionism; 
and Chesterton himself remained convinced that some system 
akin to Zionism was the only possible solution of this enormous 
problem possibly a system of Jewish cantons in various coun 
tries. But he was equally convinced that the English govern 
ment was destroying the chances of success for Zionism by send- 

3n & 
ing Jews as governors in England's name to that or any other 

Eastern country. 

Even in this book there is struck at times a note of the doom 
he feared was overhanging us. He heard "Islam crying from the 
turret and Israel wailing from the wall," and yet he seemed too 
to hear a voice from all the peoples of Jerusalem '^bidding us 
weep not for them, who have faith and clarity and a purpose, 
but weep for ourselves and for our children." In his fighting 
articles he had asserted the supremacy of the human will over 
fate: in this book he sees how that will must be renewed, puri 
fied and made once more mighty by the same power that built 
the ancient civilisation of Christendom. 

Jerusalem gave to Chesterton the fuller realisation of two 
great facts. First he saw that the supernatural was needed not 
only to conquer the powers of evil but even to restore the good 
things that should be natural to man. As he put it in the later 

Rome via Jerusalem 451 

book, "Nature may not have the name of Isis; Isis may not be 
really looking for Osiris. But it is true that Nature is really 
looking for something. Nature is always looking for the super 
natural/' Yet man, even strengthened by the supernatural, can 
not suffice for the fight, without a leader who is more than man. 
In the land of Christ's childhood, His teaching and His suffer 
ing, there came to Gilbert Chesterton "a vision more vivid than 
a man walking unveiled upon the mountains, seen of men and 
seeing; a visible God/ 7 

All visions must fade into the light of common day, and the 
return home meant the resumption of hard labour. 

'Tor the moment," wrote Gilbert to Maurice Baring, "as 
Balzac said, I am labouring like a miner in a landslide* Normally 
I would let it slide. But if I did in this case I should break two 
or three really important contracts, which I find I have returned 
from Jerusalem just in time to save/' 

(A few years later when Sheed and Ward started, Gilbert 
wanted to write a number of books for us to publish. His secre 
tary found that he had then thirty books contracted for with a 
variety of publishers!) 

^He had got home in April 1920: and a lecture tour was 
planned for the United States at the beginning of the following 
year. The eight months between saw the completion and pub 
lication of The Uses of Diversity (collected essays), The New 
Jerusalem and The Superstition of Divorce. And still went on 
the New Witness, the Illustrated. London News, articles, intro 
ductions, lectures, conferences. Two letters to Maurice Baring 
clearly belong to these months: 


I am so awfully distressed to hear you are unwell again; I do 
not know whether I ought even to bother you with my senti 
ments; beyond my sympathy; but if it is not too late, or too eariy, 

452 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

I will call on you early next week; probably Monday, but I will 
let you know for certain before then. I would Have called on you 
long ago, let alone written, but for this load of belated work which 
really seems to bury me day after day. I never realised before that 
business can really block out much bigger things. As you may 
possibly guess, I want to consider my position about the biggest 
thing of all, whether I am to be inside it or outside it. I used to 
think one could be an Anglo-Catholic and really inside it; but if 
that was (to use an excellent phrase of your own) only a Porch, 
I do not think I want a Porch, and certainly not a Porch standing 
some way from the building. A Porch looks so silly, standing all 
by itself in a field. Since then, unfortunately, there have sprung 
up round it real ties and complications and difficulties; difficulties 
that seemed almost duties. But I will not bother you with all that 
now; and I particularly do not want you to bother yourself, espe 
cially to answer this unless you want to. I know I have your sym 
pathy; and please God, I shall get things straight. Sometimes one 
suspects the real obstacles have been the weaknesses one knows 
to be wrong, and not the doubts that might be relatively right, or 
at least rational. I suppose all this is a common story; and I hope 
so; for wanting to be uncommon is really not one of my weak 
nesses. They are worse, probably, but they are not that. There are 
other and in the ordinary sense more cheerful things I would like 
to talk of; things I think we could both do for causes we certainly 
agree about. Meanwhile, thank you for everything; and be sure I 
think of you very much. 

Yours always, 



This is the shortest, hastiest and worst written letter in the 
world. It only tells you three things: (i) that I thank you a 
thousand times for the book; (2) that I have to leave for America 
for a month or two, earlier than I expected; but I am glad, for I 
shall see something of Frances, without walls of work between us; 
and (3) that I have pretty well made up my mind about the 
thing we talked about. Fortunately, the thing we talked about can 
be found all over the world. 

Yours always, 


Rome via Jerusalem 453 

I will not write here of the American scene but will talk of 
it in a later chapter along with the second tour Gilbert made 
in the States. It seems best to complete now the story of his 
journey of the mind. A reserved man tells more of himself 
indirectly than directly. Readers of the Autobiography complain 
that it is concerned with everything in the world except G. K. 
Chesterton. You can certainly search its pages in vain for any 
account of the process of his conversion: for that you must look 
elsewhere: in the poems to Our Lady, in The Catholic Church 
and Conversion, in The Well and the Shallows, and in the let 
ters here to be quoted. 

In The Catholic Church antt Conversion he sketches the 
three phases through which most converts pass, all of which he 
had himself experienced. He sums them up as "patronizing 
the Church, discovering the Church, and running away from 
the Church." In the first phase a man is taking trouble ("and 
taking trouble has certainly never been a particular weakness of 
mine") to find out the fallacy in most anti-Catholic ideas. In 
the second stage he is gradually discovering the great ideas en 
shrined in the Church and hitherto hidden from him. "It is 
these numberless glimpses of great ideas, that have been hidden 
from the convert by the prejudices of his provincial culture, 
that constitute the adventurous and varied second stage of the 
conversion. It is, broadly speaking, the stage in which the man 
is unconsciously trying to be converted. And the third stage is 
perhaps the truest and most terrible. It is that in which the man 
is trying not to be converted. He has come too near to the truth, 
and has forgotten that truth is a magnet, with the powers of 
attraction and repulsion." * 

To a certain extent it is a fear which attaches to all sharp and 
irrevocable decisions; it is suggested in all the old jokes about the 
shakiness of the bridegroom at the wedding or the recruit who 
takes the shilling and gets drank partly to celebrate, but partly 

* The CatkoUc Ckurck mid Conversion, p. 61. 

454 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

also to forget it. But it is the fear of a fuller sacrament and a 
mightier army. * . . * 

The man has exactly the same sense of having committed or 
compromised himself; or having been in a sense entrapped, even if 
he is glad to be entrapped. But for a considerable time he is not 
so much glad as simply terrified. It may be that this real psycho 
logical experience has been misunderstood by stupider people and 
is responsible for all that remains of the legend that Rome is a 
mere trap. But that legend misses the whole point of the psychol 
ogy. It is not the Pope who has set the trap or the priests who have 
baited it. The whole point of the position is that the trap is simply 
the truth. The whole point is that the man himself has made his 
way towards the trap of truth, and not the trap that has run after 
the man. All steps except the last step he has taken eagerly on his 
own account, out of interest in the truth; and even the last step, 
or the last stage, only alarms him because it is so very true. If I 
may refer once more to a personal experience, I may say that I 
for one was never less troubled by doubts than in the last phase, 
when I was troubled by fears. Before that final delay I had been 
detached and ready to regard all sorts of doctrines with an open 
mind. Since that delay has ended in decision, I have had all sorts 
of changes in mere mood; and I think I sympathise with doubts 
and difficulties more than I did before. But I had no doubts or diffi 
culties just before. I had only fears; fears of something that had 
the finality and simplicity of suicide. But the more I thrust the 
thing into the back of my mind, the more certain I grew of what 
Thing it was. And by a paradox that does not frighten me now in 
the least, it may be that I shall never again have such absolute 
assurance that the thing is true as I had when I made my last 
effort to deny it.f 

The whole of Catholic theology can be justified, says Gilbert, 
if you are allowed to start with those two ideas that the Church 
is popularly supposed to oppose: Reason and Liberty. 'To be 
come a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how 
to think. It is so in exactly the same sense in which to recover 
from palsy is not to leave off moving but to learn how to move/' 
The convert has learnt long before his conversion that the 

*Ibid, p. 65. -flbid, pp. 

Rome via Jerusalem 455 

Church will not force him to abandon his will. "But he is not 
unreasonably dismayed at the extent to which he may have to 
use his will." This was the crux for Gilbert. 'There is in flie 
last second of time or hairbreadth of space, before the iron 
leaps to the magnet, an abyss full of all the unfathomable forces 
of the universe. The space between doing and not doing such a 
thing is so tiny and so vast/' 

Father Maturin said after his conversion that for at least ten 
years before it the question had never been out of his mind for 
ten waking minutes. It was about ten years since Gilbert had 
first talked to Father O'Connor of his intention to join the 
Church, but in his case thought on the subject could not have 
been so continuous. Still he had time for patronising, discovery, 
and running away, all in leisurely fashion. External efforts to 
I^elp him, had been worse than useless: as he indicates in The 
Catholic Church and Conversion, they had always put him 

"Gilbert could not be hustled/' says Maurice Baring of his 
whole habit of mind and body. 

"You could fluster Gilbert but not hustle him/' says Father 

They were both too wise to try. 

In two letters Gilbert said that the two people who helped 
him most at this time were Maurice Baring and Father Ronald 
Knox, who had both gone through the same experience them 

Besides the positive mental processes of recognition, repulsion 
and attraction exercised by the Church, Gilbert was affected to 
some extent both by affection for the Church of England and 
disappointment with it. The profound joy of his early conver 
sion to Christianity was linked with Anglicanism and so too 
were many friendships and the continued attachment to it of 
Frances. But what he said to Maurice Baring about a Porch is 
representative. Like Father Maturin he felt he owed so much to 

456 Gilbert Keith Chesterton 

his Anglican friends: lie hated to stress overmuch the revulsion 
from Anglicanism in the process of conversion. But it did at this 
date contribute to the converging arguments. 
He wrote to Maurice Baring: 

So many thanks for the sermons, which I will certainly return 
as you suggest. I had the other day a trying experience, and I 
think a hard case of casuistry; I am not sure that I was right; but 
also not by any means sure I was wrong. Long ago, before my 
present crisis, I had promised somebody to take part in what I 
took to be a small debate on labour. Too late, by my own careless 
ness, I found to my horror it had swelled into a huge Anglo- 
Catholic Congress at the Albert Hall. I tried to get out of it, but I 
was held to my promise. Then I reflected that I could only write 
(as I was already writing) to my Anglo-Catholic friends on the 
basis that I was one of them now in doubt about continuing such; 
and that their conference in some sense served the same purpose 
as their letters. What affected me most, however, was that by my 
own fault I had put them into a hole. Otherwise, I would not 
just now speak from or for their platform, just as I could not (as 
yet at any rate) speak from or for yours. So I spoke very briefly, 
saying something of what I think about social ethics. Whether or 
not my decision was right, my experience was curious and sug 
gestive, though tragic; for I felt it like a farewell. There was no 
doubt about the enthusiasm of those thousands of Anglo-Catholics. 
But there was also no doubt, unless I am much mistaken, that 
many of them besides myself would be Roman Catholics rather 
than accept things they are quite likely to be asked to accept for 
instance, by the Lambeth Conference. For though my own dis 
tress, as in most cases I suppose, has much deeper grounds than 
clerical decisions, yet if I cannot stay where I am, it will be a sort 
of useful symbol that the English Church has done something 
decisively Protestant or Pagan. I mean that to those to whom I 
cannot give my spiritual biography, I can say that the insecurity I 
felt in Anglicanism was typified in the Lambeth Conference. I am 
at least sure that much turns on that Conference, if not for me y 
for large numbers of those people at the Albert Hall. A young 
Anglo-Catholic curate has just told me that the crowd there 
cheered all references to the Pope, and laughed at every mention 

Home via Jerusalem 457 

of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It's a queer state of things. I am 
concerned most, however, about somebody I value more than the 
Archbishop of Canterbury; Frances, to whom I owe much of my 
own faith, and to whom therefore (as far as I can see my way) I 
also owe every decent chance for the controversial defence of her 
faith. If her side can convince me, they have a right to do so; if 
not, I shall go hot and strong to convince her. I put it clumsily, 
but there is a point in my mind. Logically, therefore, I must await 
answers from Waggett and Gore as well as Knox and McNabb; 
and talk the whole thing over with her, and then act as I be 

This is a dusty political sort of letter, with nothing in it but 
what I think, and nothing of what I feel. For that side of it, I can 
only express myself by asking for your prayers. 

The accident of his having to speak at this Congress, where 
lie was received with enormous enthusiasm, probably led to a 
fuller analysis of this element in his thought. I put here a letter 
he wrote to Maurice Baring soon after his conversion, "because 
it sums up the Anglican question as he finally saw it: 

Feb. 1 4th, 1923 

Please forgive me for the delay; but I have been caught in a 
cataract of letters and work in connection with the new paper we 
are trying to start; and am now dictating this under conditions that 
make it impossible for it to resemble anything so personal and 
intimate as the great unwritten epistle to which you refer. But I 
will note down here very hurriedly and in a more impersonal way, 
some of the matters that have affected me in relation to the great 

To begin with, I am shy of giving one of my deepest reasons